As a 15-year-old boy wins a case against the way child curfew orders are used, BBC News turns the spotlight on areas where the powers are enforced.
Councils say they only use dispersal notices as a last resort
In the summer of 2004 residents of the north London area of Somers Town were plagued by gangs of youths fighting in the streets.
"It was territorial mostly, the north of the Euston Road versus the south of the Euston Road," said Camden Council's head of community safety Tony Brooks.
Teenage tearaways rode through council estates on mopeds and cyclists commuting back from work were jostled, obstructed and even robbed.
After an application by local police, the council agreed to back a "dispersal notice" to stop the situation from getting any worse.
Under part 4 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 police can disperse groups of two or more and return unsupervised under 16s found in the zone after 9pm home to their parents.
According to Camden, the results were astonishing.
Robbery was cut by 60%, actual bodily harm by 66% and theft from motor vehicles by 70%.
And it was not just elderly residents who were grateful, Mr Brooks said.
"We got comments from youngsters like 'thank you very much I can now take my bike out to play without it getting nicked'," he said.
But according to youth development co-ordinator Becky Palmer, Camden is one of a number of areas which has gained a reputation for cracking down a little too hard on youngsters.
"For the majority of young people they're hanging around because there is nowhere else to go. Unless you are at risk of offending there is no provision," she said.
Moving youngsters on means that those who complained think things are getting better, but it does not deal with the behaviour, Ms Palmer said.
Not only do young people feel alienated by these orders, they are prevented from socialising and going to the cinema, she said.
"You can't take part in a project which helps you draw up a CV because it ends too late," Ms Palmer added.
But Mr Brooks insists that it is only those making trouble who are escorted home.
"It's just saying 'go home quietly'," he said.
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But once the four-month dispersal notice in Somers Town had expired, problems began to re-emerge and soon residents and cycling groups were calling for another one.
Mr Brooks acknowledges the orders are a quick fix, but suggests the resurgence of nuisance behaviour is more a perception than reality.
Community safety officer in the south London area of West Norwood, Nabil Mezoughi, says the powers need to be used in an "intelligent way".
By taking a "holistic approach" and plugging gaps in youth service provision, nuisance behaviour in his area, has been virtually wiped out, he says.
"There were so many young people congregating we didn't know who we were dealing with.
"We were receiving reports of a huge number of incidents but we ended up in a situation where we were fighting shadows."
The fact that police got names and addresses, he said, meant his team could follow the cases up.
"We could go to their parents or guardians and say, did you know that they were doing this or that?"
Danny Ferguson, nicknamed the Tom Thumb Tearaway was served with an Asbo aged 11
Youngsters would then be referred to the council's anti-social behaviour case review panels where longer term measures and needs could be addressed - youth workers and even Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos) might be used for the worst cases.
Rights group Liberty, which is acting for child 'W' in the High Court, argues the all-encompassing nature of powers breaches youngsters' rights.
Liberty's Mhairi McGhee said: "Young people are allowed to hang out with their friends, they are allowed to kick a football around. They are allowed to shout."
Rod Morgan, chairman of the Youth Justice Board, who advises the government on youth crime, acknowledged the difficult balance between protecting communities and youngsters' rights.
"Not all young people are trouble-makers and we need to ensure that those who are do not prevent law-abiding young people doing what they are entitled to do," he said.
And he said projects which involve young people in positive activities had led to a 65% cut in arrest rates for those on them.
"Programmes such as these should allow the vast majority of law-abiding young people to go about the business of being young without being feared or restricted."