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Last Updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004, 06:44 GMT 07:44 UK
New anti-nuisance powers unveiled
Police dealing with hooligans
The government says it wants to take a stand against "yobs"
Parish and town councils will be able to fine people causing nuisance noise, graffiti or litter under new plans.

Unveiling the new measures against anti-social behaviour, Tony Blair said the number of special courts dealing with the problem would be tripled.

And protection for witnesses in such trials would be bolstered, he pledged.

Ministers say use of anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) is up hugely but their critics accuse them of offering only "gimmicks".

2,633 anti-social behaviour orders used
150 crack houses closed
418 dispersal orders issued (in last nine months)
Source: Home Office figures for October 2003 to September 2004

Thursday's measures would also allow courts to force people given Absos to undergo drug treatment without them being convicted of a criminal offence.

Mr Blair told a conference: "For too long the selfish minority have had it all their own way. That's changing.

"The fightback against the criminals, the louts and the nuisance neighbours is well under way."

He welcomed use of existing powers but was worried only half of local crime and disorder partnerships had teams dedicated to the problem.

"Until action is taken in every community, we cannot rest," said the prime minister.

He set out three priorities for changes:

  • Give greater protection to witnesses and victims in the civil cases used to impose Asbos, including giving evidence behind screens or via video links

  • Faster justice by tripling the number of special courts which fast-track Asbo cases and expanding the range of offences where fixed penalty notices can be used

  • Renewing community policing, with a dedicated policing team for every neighbourhood which needs it.

Explaining the new powers for parish and town councils, Mr Blair said: "Local communities know best about problems of anti-social behaviour but we need to give more power to people to help them tackle it."

A Home Office spokeswoman said the measure was aimed at councils which employ a parish ranger and a crime and safety officer to check on nuisance behaviour.

New action areas

Fifty new areas which will get special help, including extra funding, to fight nuisance behaviour in England and Wales have also been named.

Ten areas have already had access to special prosecutors and local experts and the government is now expanding the crackdown to more towns and cities.

Labour sees nuisance behaviour as a key election issue but critics claim its record is at best patchy.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of pressure group Liberty answered your questions in a live interactive forum

The Home Office estimates at least 100,000 incidents of anti-social behaviour were dealt with in the last year.

But its research suggested 66,107 nuisance incidents were recorded on just one day in September last year.

In the last year, more than 2,600 anti-social behaviour orders were issued - more than double the total used in the previous four years.

Police have also closed 150 crack houses and in the last nine months have issued more than 400 dispersal orders, breaking up groups of youths in public places.

Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis accused Mr Blair of complacency.

Tackle the root of the problem, not the end of it
Dan A, Manchester, UK

The government had taken six years to reach just over half of its target of issuing 5,000 Asbos a year and 36% of the orders were broken, he said.

Mr Davis added: "Giving parish councils the power to issue fines is the latest in a long line of gimmicks."

Liberal Democrat spokesman Mark Oaten said Asbos had a role to play but were a "quick fix not necessarily a long term fix".

He told BBC News 24 more attention was needed to tackle the causes of nuisance behaviour, especially among young people, and to ensure police officers were not "handcuffed" to their desks.

Mr Oaten said it was a good idea for local communities to be involved as long as it did not mean "local lynch mobs".

Why the government believes the measures are biting

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