The first year's operation of the cornerstone of the Government's law and order policy has been dogged by court defeats, confusion and allegations of misuse.
An investigation by the Independent has discovered that despite hundreds of arrests under the controversial public order sections of the Act, fewer than 1 in 10 have resulted in successful prosecutions. Two major tests of its provisions have been defeated in the courts leading to claims that parts of the legislation are unenforceable - and it faces another High Court challenge today over the establishment of child jails.
Its implementation by police has varied throughout the country, leading to claims that justice under the Act has become a lottery. Some of the country's 43 forces have seen no need to use the new public order powers, while others have been accused of misusing the law. Police are accused of wrongly using their new powers to set bail conditions for unconvicted people.
The Home Office says it does not yet have a breakdown of the Act's use. But figures gathered from civil rights and protest groups show that of more than 400 hunt saboteurs, peace campaigners, environmentalists, travellers and ravers arrested under its powers, fewer than 40 have been convicted. The results could prove costly as a growing number of those acquitted or whose charges have been dropped are suing for damages.
Liz Parratt, of Liberty, said: "It looks as if the new laws are as unworkable as they are unjust and we'll be challenging them in Europe."
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