Trevor Grove

Asbo-lutely mad

Trevor Grove on the risks of enforcing Asbos with jail sentences

One way to imprison a suspected terrorist for 90 days or even longer, without any bother from Parliament, would be to give him an Anti-Social Behaviour Order. The Asbo could be drawn up to include a number of hard-to-follow rules such as never to associate with more than one other person in public or use the internet. Once a breach was proved in court, where it would be regarded as a serious criminal offence, the offender could be given a jail sentence of up to five years. Gotcha! Such is the concealed yet far-reaching power of the Asbo that this is a not entirely frivolous hypothesis.

Asbos were introduced seven years ago under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, with the desirable aim of protecting communities ‘from behaviour that has caused or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as the perpetrator’. Typically they are imposed on named individuals and prohibit specified acts such as entering a particular area, riding a scooter or drinking alcohol in public. They are usually applied for by the police or local authority as a means of dealing with bad boys and un-neighbourly neighbours when there is not enough hard evidence to charge them with actual crimes. An Asbo can also be made on conviction, ancillary to the sentence. Either way, these orders are intended not as a punishment for past trouble-making but as a way of preventing it in future and protecting the public from further nuisance. This is obviously a sensible idea.

The cleverness of the Asbo is that it is a civil order, so that when an application is made in the magistrates’ court, it is the civil rules of evidence that apply. This means that as well as any direct testimony the police or local authority put forward, hearsay evidence is also admissible.

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