The civil servant on the phone with me last autumn sounded excited. ‘Normally, we ask what a law allows local authorities to do. With this one, we are asking local authorities, “Have we drafted anything here that stops you doing something?”’ The cause of his excitement was the proposed new law he was in charge of, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which had its report stage in the House of Lords yesterday.
And indeed: what doesn’t it allow authorities to do?
The bill includes Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs), which can be issued against anybody whose conduct – or threatened conduct – is capable – on the balance of probabilities – of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person.
Few things in the public space are incapable of at least annoying someone. Some people can be annoyed by busking, ball games, skateboarding, street preaching, protests, and all the rest of it. As the former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald QC judged: ‘It is difficult to imagine a broader concept than causing “nuisance” or “annoyance”. The phrase is apt to catch a vast range of everyday behaviours to an extent that may have serious implications for the rule of law.’
The Manifesto Club is part of the Reform Clause 1 coalition, led by the Christian Institute, which is calling for final-hour amendments to tighten up this coach-and-horses clause. Last night, Lord Dear, the former chief constable of West Midlands Police, proposed an amendment to replace ‘nuisance’ and ‘annoyance’ with the higher legal threshold of causing ‘harassment, alarm and distress’. The amendment passed with an overwhelming majority.