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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Q&A: Anti-social behaviour orders
Find out all about anti-social behaviour orders, what they do and why they are controversial.

What are anti-social behaviour orders?

Anti-social behaviour orders - or Asbos - are civil (rather than criminal) orders imposed on individuals by the courts.

They restrict a person from doing anything specified, usually behaving in a certain way or going to a certain place, although some more unusual restrictions have also been used on occasion (see below).

Breaching the order can result in a criminal punishment including up to five years in prison.

Why were they introduced?

Tackling disorder in communities was a central plank of Labour's law and order policy on coming to power in 1997.

In 1998 it introduced the Crime and Disorder Act, which targeted individuals and families who made life difficult for other residents through theft, intimidation, drunkenness, violence and other anti-social behaviour.

The main component of the act was the Anti-Social Behaviour Order, which came into force on 1 April 1999.

How are they imposed?

Asbos are imposed by magistrates courts after an application by a case officer who is usually an employee of the local council.

The case officer has to tell the court details such as the people and incidents involved and the restrictions of the proposed Asbo.

The court will also hear about welfare issues, family circumstances, attempts at mediation and warnings and evidence that the defendant has not been victimised or discriminated against.

The court then decides what prohibitions to apply.

An Asbo has to last for at least two years but can be indefinite. It must be "reasonable and proportionate and realistically practical".

Asbos do not need to only refer to criminal acts, but can prohibit actions which, although not criminal themselves, would be necessary steps before a criminal act - such as a ban on entering a shop rather than on shoplifting.

Appeals against Asbos can be made to a Crown Court.

What happens when they are breached?

Breaching an Asbo is a criminal offence, for which a defendant can be arrested.

The police investigate breaches and can obtain information from any source including housing and other local authority officers, neighbours and members of the public.

Occasionally, for offenders below 18 where the breach is not considered "flagrant", a final warning with an intervention programme maybe imposed.

But usually breach of an Asbo will result in prosecution and a court appearance.

What sort of Asbos have been imposed?

Asbos have been imposed mainly to prevent general "yobbish" behaviour such as stone throwing, verbal abuse, petty arson and vandalism.

Examples of restrictions include bans on people

  • entering specific areas
  • being in large groups on the street
  • being out at night
  • riding motorcycles
  • associating with named individuals
  • carrying or using a weapon
  • swearing or using racist language

But more unusual Asbos have included bans on wearing headgear (to allow the defendant to be identified on CCTV), knocking on the front door of any home in Britain (imposed on a serial con-man) and owning a stereo, radio, or TV (aimed at preventing the playing of loud music).

They have even been used against music industry giants in an effort to stamp out illegal fly-posting.

What do the critics of Asbos say?

Asbos have not been universally welcomed by politicians and crime and public policy groups.

The main criticism early on surrounded the reluctance of councils to impose them. Far fewer than expected were used in the years after they came into force, with much of the blame put on the bureaucratic and time-consuming process.

But other critics say Asbos, with no rehabilitation component, are ineffective in the long-run compared to drug and alcohol treatment and employment opportunities.

There have also been complaints that they infringe defendants' human rights, especially when they are "named and shamed" in the media or through leaflets and posters.

Others say Asbos have no teeth and defendants would be better dealt with by a period in prison or a Young Offender Institution.

What do supporters say?

The government has attempted to address some of the concerns about process with a series of reforms, including the launch of a new anti-social behaviour plan in 2003.

Some welcome Asbos because they say it is a warning system, giving troublemakers a chance to change before they get a criminal record.

Other Asbo supporters claim talk of rehabilitation and human rights is a luxury, and for those living on housing estates plagued by bad behaviour the orders make a real difference to their quality of life.




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