Lords stand firm on "annoying" injunctions

Posted by Sara Ogilvie on 09 January 2014

Who hasn’t annoyed someone at some point? We’re all guilty of it on occasion, whether it’s being a little too loud or jumping the bus queue. But it’s not something you’ll get punished for here in Britain, right?

Wrong, if the Government gets its way. Ministers are now trying to introduce injunctions against being “annoying” via the mammoth Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. Whereas existing Antisocial Behaviour Orders (Asbos) can only be granted if a person or group is causing, or threatening to cause, “harassment, alarm or distress”, these new injunctions – dubbed “Ipnas” – could be handed out if the behaviour “could reasonably be expected to cause nuisance or annoyance”.

With such a broad definition, the new measures could feasibly affect everyone from peaceful protesters to noisy children; from carol-singers to trick-or-treaters. This new generation of injunctions would also be easier to obtain and harder to comply with, with harsher penalties for good measure.

Thankfully, last night the House of Lords saw this sloppy, ill-thought legislation for what it was and sent the Government back to the drawing board. The Upper Chamber voted 306 to 178 against the injunctions, after a lengthy debate in which speakers from all sides spoke out against the proposals.

And scores of prominent peers backed an amendment by Lord Dear – one we at Liberty proposed and have been working hard to gather support for over recent months – to replace the phrase “nuisance and annoyance” in the legislation with the “harassment, alarm or distress” description used for Asbos.

The margin of yesterday’s defeat for the Government underlines the chilling effect of these reforms. We were quick to highlight that the new injunctions cast the net far too wide, jeopardising fundamental freedoms and free speech in this country.

Antisocial behaviour provisions already blur the distinction between criminality and nuisance – setting the young, vulnerable or mentally ill up to fail. They often fast-track people into the justice system, rather than diverting them away. Regrettably this latest Bill contains most of the faults and weaknesses of the existing regime – minus certain important safeguards.

Last night’s result is extremely welcome. The issue now returns to the Commons, where hopefully Ministers will think again. What kind of society, after all, seeks to dish out legal penalties for minor irritations?