Super-ASBOs will make it super-easy to ban just about anything

This super-ASBO is a serious threat to free demonstrations, especially to students engaging in peaceful protest

Share
Related Topics

You remember ASBOs, right? The New Labour measure to ostracise unprivileged teens, harass prostitutes and stop a pensioner being sarcastic. You’ll be glad to know the government is passing a shiny new update. They’ll be in law by Easter: Super-ASBOs will make it super-easy to ban just about anything.

Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (catchy) can be slapped onto anyone who "on the balance of probabilities…engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person." Tell the future? Check. Massively subjective? Check. Fines and jail-time? Check. Can last forever? Checkmate.

This super-ASBO is a serious threat to free demonstrations, especially to students engaging in peaceful protest. A loud, non-violent, legal march could be seen as potentially annoying, especially if (say) your poster reads ‘GET OUT TORY SCUM’ and the annoyee in question is Conservative. You don’t need to be breaking a law – breaking wsiind is enough to land you an IPNA if Officer A finds your wind offensive. If that sounds like exaggeration, remember the Oxford student fined for calling a police horse ‘gay’.

It’s difficult to stress how ambiguous the law’s wording is. I can get annoyed by commuter flatulence, by certain types of music, by babies screaming. Should I be able to ban them? The law is so wide that even the former head of public prosecutions – the lawyer the Blair government used to fight terror – has warned of ‘shockingly low safeguards’ for protesters, street performers and corner-preachers. ‘The danger in this Bill is that it potentially empowers State interference,’ Lord MacDonald continued.  

Not worried yet? The law also replaces Dispersal Orders. The new PSPOs are just supposed to stop 3am singing, dog-littering and aggressive begging. However, analysis by liberal think-tank The Manifesto Club shows specific groups can be targeted, for example X footy fans, Y ethnic groups or Z uni’s undergrads. Now all you need to do to be moved along, or intimidated before arrival, is indulge in ‘activities carried on or likely to be carried on in a public place… [that] will have or have had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality’. Like a sit-in. Or an Occupation. Or a march.

Human rights group Liberty reveal the new law fails to define ‘locality’, so bans could cover districts, cities or even counties, making the likes of the Sussex Uni Occupation impossible from the start. Those who planned the St Paul’s Cathedral tent city or pivotal demonstrations that stopped Britain attacking Syria could’ve been stopped at inception. The police already have the power to arrest student leaders who don’t warn councils of political action – this is the next logical step.

Anyone who turns up and breaches an order gets a £100 spot-fine. Fines can be delivered by private security firms like G4S, whose recent record includes alleged fraud, mucking up the Olympics and manhandling a pregnant woman. You could refuse to pay and face a trip to court, costing you £1,000 on conviction. Enough to terrify most cash-strapped students. Thanks, tuition fees. 

This boost to policing comes on the back of the government’s general lurch towards heavy-handed authoritarianism. Secret footage recently emerged of Cambridgeshire police trying to recruit a mole in university activism, with promises of reimbursement and advice not to ‘think too deeply’ about spying on fellow students at anti-fracking and anti-fascist movements.  We know from Eddy Snowden that GCHQ can tap your communications and pre-empt you if you’re planning a protest. If you’re frightened into staying home, watch out for Dave’s Porn Crusade. If you pop out for milk, look out for the ‘GO HOME’ van.

The not-so-Liberal Democrats have quietly supported the law in question, as part of the government’s fuzzy commitment to empowering local communities. The bill is so complicated that Labour’s opposition is virtually useless. I asked the Tory Prisons Minister, Jeremy Wright, about the concerns raised by the new powers. His response demurred, then concluded: "We have taken a careful, principled and pragmatic approach to finding this balance and as a result, both security and the protection of cherished civil liberties have been strengthened."

How annoying.

Jonathan Lindsell is a research fellow at Civitas think tank.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own