First catflaps, now curfews

Posted by Bella Sankey on 13 October 2011

The sane counsel and calm logical resolve of all governments is eventually tested by events. Today the Home Office publishes its “Something Must be Done” consultation on public order powers in the wake of the summer of riotous discontent.

The suggested reform of the dangerously broad speech offence of using “threatening, abusive or insulting” words or behaviour is of course a welcome step. Liberty once represented a young man who was arrested under this offence for calling Scientology a cult.

But the ying and yang of political trade-off ensures that something even more pernicious lurks in paragraph 3.11 of the same document. A “general police curfew power” would allow officers to keep the public off the streets in a certain location for a period of time. Any “senior police officer” would be able to take such a decision – based on the threat of “disorder”. Breach of an instruction to leave the curfew zone could be made a criminal offence.

Blanket powers to sweep innocent bystanders off the streets are no way to respond to the lawlessness of the summer. Most police officers have come to realise that a targeted and proportionate approach to criminality is far preferable to alienating the very communities whose support they so need.

There is hardly a shortage of coercive police power in post-Blair Britain. We can be stopped, searched and dispersed within an inch of our lives and should be rather more questioning of the logic of further measures. In a riot situation isn’t it better to arrest someone for actual violence than for failing to remove his mask - arrest him for looting rather than failing to leave the no-go zone in which he is looking for his teenage son after dark?”

What ever happened to the “civil liberties” coalition that abolished ID cards and sought to restore rights and freedoms? It's all gone cat-flaps and curfews! As a result of Liberty’s victory in the Court of Human Rights, government is reforming blanket stop and search powers. How on Earth will blanket powers to impose curfews on peacetime Britain cut the mustard against the same tests of legality, proportionality and common sense?