It’s easy to understand the desire to see the UK government’s Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs) crushed in their cradle. As has been argued on spiked previously, these proposed successors to Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are so mind-blowingly broad that anyone whose behaviour is deemed by another to be ‘annoying’ or a ‘nuisance’ could find themselves having an IPNA slapped on them. And flouting these injunctions could lead to three months in prison.
From carol singers to contrarians, IPNAs could potentially criminalise all sorts of activities because someone, somewhere, happened to find them annoying. The injunctions could further sterilise public spaces and, as numerous campaigners have pointed out, have a detrimental impact on democratic freedoms in the UK.
Yet it became hard to take some of these campaigners’ concerns about democratic freedom seriously when they started cheering the roadblock IPNAs met in the House of Lords last week. The upper chamber voted 306 to 178 against IPNAs. Is the sight of unelected Lords throwing out proposals passed by elected MPs really something for freedom-loving democrats to celebrate?
But many did celebrate, taking to Twitter to thank the Lords. One dedicated campaign group tweeted that they were ‘Still smiling about this!’ following the result. Human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell tweeted ‘Bravo’. And the prominent campaign group, Liberty, declared, ‘The House of Lords has once again stood firm against sloppy, chilling legislation’. Now the issue will return to the Commons, Liberty claims, and ‘hopefully ministers will think again’. Liberty was particularly happy because peers had backed an amendment it had been lobbying for over the past few months, namely to replace ‘nuisance and annoyance’ in the legislation ‘with the “harassment, alarm or distress” description used for ASBOs’.
That’s not to say that many of the points made by the Lords when criticising IPNAs weren’t perfectly valid. Former attorney general Lord Morris of Aberavon, for example, was right to criticise the Home Office ‘for bringing forward “ill thought-out” proposals with “little regard for the consequences”’. This is on the nail. But the question remains: who is Lord Morris to decide that legislation passed by our elected lawmakers is ill thought-out?