Curfew law impossible to enforce, say campaigners

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The Independent Online

New laws to allow police to keep teenagers off the streets could prove as unworkable as the infamous Dangerous Dogs Act, crime reduction campaigners said last night.

New laws to allow police to keep teenagers off the streets could prove as unworkable as the infamous Dangerous Dogs Act, crime reduction campaigners said last night.

The Home Office has given local authorities and the police powers to ban all children under the age of 16 in designated areas from leaving their homes at night, in an effort to reduce anti-social behaviour in high-crime neighbourhoods.

But the curfews, introduced as part of the Criminal Justice and Police Act, risk undermining relations between young people and the police and could exacerbate racial tensions, it was claimed yesterday.

Chris Stanley, a spokesman for the crime-fighting charity Nacro, said: "These powers could well end up becoming the Dangerous Dogs Act of the juvenile justice system, popular with no one and virtually impossible to enforce."

The Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 rapidly became unworkable because of legal battles over which breeds it covered. It was amended in 1997.

Mr Stanley said the curfews would apply to any child in the area, not just to troublemakers. "Enforcement could prove to be a nightmare, with tension and conflict between young people and the police increasing, not diminishing," he said. "I pity the police officer who has to spend his or her evenings working out which teenagers are under 16 and which are over 16."

Nacro also said young people from ethnic minorities are disproportionately subjected to police stop-and-search procedures and there was a danger that the curfews might be overly used in areas with large black and Asian communities.

But the Home Office Minister, Beverley Hughes, said the curfews would provide protection for both young people and their communities. "These orders are not designed to be used in isolation, but are another tool that police and local authorities can use to tackle anti-social behaviour," she said, adding that they would help to keep children safe from "adults such as drug dealers or pimps, or older peers encouraging them into criminal activities".

The curfews apply to "defined geographical areas", such as a town centre or housing estate, and can be imposed from 9pm to 6am for up to 90 days.

Curfews were introduced in September 1998 for children under the age of 10 but have not been used, partly because local authorities believed that they would be ineffective.

John Wadham, director of civil rights group Liberty, said: "Rather than restricting civil liberties, the Government should be focusing resources on measures to prevent children from becoming involved in crime in the first place."