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Tuesday, September 14, 1999 Published at 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK


UK Politics

Straw attacks civil rights groups

The home secretary will encourage the police to apply for more orders

Home Secretary Jack Straw has attacked civil rights groups' opposition to his social disorder reforms in a speech to senior police officers.

Mr Straw attacked the hypocrisy of "well-heeled" civil liberties lawyers who were attempting to block anti-social behaviour orders.

He urged local authorities to make more use of the anti-social behaviour orders. Only five have been obtained in England and Wales since they came into force on 1 April.


[ image:  ]
In his speech to the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales, the home secretary repeated his regrets that the number of orders applied for was "relatively so low".

He said: "I had in mind some of the lawyers and so called legal experts who have been running a campaign against anti-social behaviour orders suggesting ludicrously that they go against the European Convention of Human Rights.

"I think there is a huge issue of hypocrisy here. They represent the perpetrator of crime and then get into their BMWs and drive off into areas where they are immune from much of the crime."

Balancing civil rights

Civil rights groups have accused the new orders of being an infringement of civil liberties, and have threatened to challenge them in the European Court of Human Rights.


[ image: Jack Straw: Remember the victims]
Jack Straw: Remember the victims
Mr Straw continued: "Remember the justice and liberty of those who are subjected to this appalling behaviour.

"What about the justice and liberty of the Asian family in my constituency who were subjected to months of racial abuse and violence by one particular family?"

Mr Straw believes the threat of such confrontation has made local authorities reluctant to apply the orders.

Not last resort

Not one local authority has sought to impose child curfews aimed at keeping young tearaways off the streets at night.

Although earlier this month, two youths from Liverpool became the first children to be subject to anti-social behaviour orders, banning them from causing criminal damage, spitting in public, using threatening behaviour or inciting others to do the same.

The home secretary said the orders should not be used as a last resort but should be applied whenever there was a need to protect victims from anti-social acts.

Mr Straw reminded delegates that police officers can seek an order from the courts without the agreement of the local authority.

He will urge the police to "get cracking" and seek orders, which if broken can lead to criminal sanctions, where necessary.

But John Wadham, director of Liberty, said: "We don't draft international human rights standards, we just try and ensure that the government complies with them. Shooting the messenger won't make their crime policies any more effective, or any more just.

"The long-term solutions must lie in crime prevention. Crime diversion schemes have a high success rate. So does mediation, even though it failed in the Liverpool case.

"The initiatives pioneered by Thames Valley Police, where offenders are made to discuss the impact of their behaviour with their family, their peers, and others in their wider community, as well as with the victims, are a bold experiment. None of these are soft options. They're hard, and they work.

"Breaching international human rights standards helps no one. It just brings the law into disrepute. The ultimate irony is that until the government abandons the macho rhetoric of its predecessors it will never have the courage or the imagination to be genuinely tough on crime.

"Since the government was elected in 1997, they have contemplated - and in numerous cases introduced - measures which have eroded the integrity of our criminal justice system. So of course criminal justice issues are often in the media spotlight: that's a logical consequence of the government's own policies.

"But there's far more to human rights than that. Our caseload involves privacy, equality, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and many other issues. It covers employment and family law as well as crime."





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06 Sep 99 | UK Politics
Child orders 'last resort'

01 Sep 99 | UK
Court brands youths 'anti-social'

14 Sep 99 | UK Politics
Child curfew laws unused





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