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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 October, 2004, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
Crackdown on nuisance neighbours
Broken window
The government says it wants to take a stand against yobs
People whose lives are "made hell" by nuisance neighbours are to be given more protection to encourage them to give evidence in court.

Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer says witnesses and victims will be able to be screened from defendants or give evidence by video link.

The number of courts specialising in anti-social behaviour will increase from 12 to 41.

Lord Falconer told the BBC the measures could be in place by next spring.

Since anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) were introduced four years ago, 2,455 have been made in England and Wales - less than the government had hoped.

Asbos are fine, if they were brought in about 10 to 15 years ago
Norman Brennan, Victims of Crime Trust

Lord Falconer, the minister in charge of courts, believes it is because many people are too frightened to give evidence against their own neighbours.

"If they are giving evidence against people who live in their own communities, that's a terrifying and sometimes intimidating experience," he told BBC News.

He said: "You need to give people confidence they will be protected."

He said primary legislation already existed to give witnesses protection but would need to go through Parliament to be extended to other courts.

Lord Falconer denied it was in "any sense geared" to the general election and said it could be on the law books by spring.

But Victims of Crime Trust director Norman Brennan said Asbos had come too late to make a difference in many cases.

Some victims are too intimidated to complain, the government says
"Asbos are fine, if they were brought in about 10 to 15 years ago," he told the BBC.

"We have allowed young offenders in particular to get away with so much crime and behave in such an appallingly bad way that now, by the time we implement Asbos in some of these cases, they are beyond certain redemption.

"Their behaviour is such [that] only a term of imprisonment or in a young offenders' institution is the right punishment."

And shadow home affairs minister Cheryl Gillan said the timing of the announcement was wrong.

She said it was "not backed up with resources or made to Parliament so we have a chance to cross question the government on it".

Lord Falconer's announcement comes ahead of the publication of the review of year-old legislation brought in to deal with "street thuggery", introduced by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

It is expected to reveal a sharp rise in the use of Asbos, dispersal orders, acceptable behaviour contracts and fixed penalty notices.

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