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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 September, 2004, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Teenager to challenge curfew law
police patrol
Police can escort youths under-16 home under the new law
A teenager is set to legally challenge new powers allowing police and councils in England and Wales to impose night-time curfews on children aged under 16.

Lawyers for the boy believe the powers in the Anti-Social Behaviour Act are in breach of his human rights.

But Tony Arbour, the leader of Richmond-upon-Thames Council, London, where the teenager lives, said the new powers would be used "with discretion".

The boy, 14, has been granted legal aid to take the case to the High Court.

Under the new rules police can escort home anyone under 16 who is unsupervised in a designated area after 2100BST at night.

They have the authority to escort children home from the areas even if they have done nothing wrong.

Under the laws, which came into force in January, 150 areas with a history of problems associated with anti-social behaviour have been designated.

'Sensible' enforcement

A curfew is in force in Richmond-upon-Thames around the town centre and riverbank.

A council spokesman told BBC News Online: "We do not have as much trouble as other places but we do have problems. We remain determined that will not escalate but will do everything possible to drive them out."

If this boy is simply going around in the normal way that youngsters do ... he's not going to be troubled at all
Tony Arbour,
Richmond-upon-Thames Council leader

Mr Arbour, the council leader, told BBC News Online Richmond was overall a "very quiet place".

By introducing the measure in July, local authorities wanted to insure that visitors and ordinary people going about their everyday lives did not feel intimidated by groups of mainly young people, he said.

"This power is available to us under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, so we've decided to adopt it. It's not that we think that Richmond is a particularly dangerous place - on the contrary.

"I have every confidence that the police will use this power sensibly."

In response to the argument that the law infringed the boy's right to a private life, he said: "I don't believe for one moment that they are going to pluck teenagers from the street willy-nilly and escort them home."

But he added: "If they believe that groups of young people are behaving in a menacing or threatening way, they now have this power to disperse them.

"If this boy is simply going around in the normal way that youngsters do and just talking with his friends in a peaceful and non-threatening way, he's not going to be troubled at all."

Private life

The council leader accused the campaign group Liberty of "unlibertarian" behaviour in backing the teenager's lawyers, who claim the measures prevent him from taking part in social activities - such as evening visits to the cinema.

The powers are only available where.... anti-social behaviour is a significant and persistent in the area
Home Office spokesman

The boy's lawyers also say the measures discriminate against all people aged under 16.

But a spokesman for the Home Office defended the measures, saying they were only available in areas with a history of anti-social behaviour problems, and proved highly effective.

"The powers are only available where an officer of or above the rank of superintendent has reasonable grounds for believing that anti-social behaviour is significant and persistent in the area, and members of the public have been intimidated, harassed or distressed," he said.

Children could be taken home only if they were out in groups of two or more, the spokesman added.

The curfew is often used in conjunction with dispersal orders, by which groups of two or more in the designated area can be broken up.




SEE ALSO:
Legal challenge to youth curfew
23 Apr 04  |  Cumbria
Third curfew zone targets gangs
28 Aug 04  |  Leicestershire
Nuisance youths subject to curfew
26 Jul 04  |  South Yorkshire
Teenage curfew hailed a success
18 Apr 04  |  Cumbria


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