The Anti-social Behaviour Bill is probably the most serious attack on the civil liberties of this country in decades.
It is well-meaning, and seeks to tackle a serious social problem, but it is so open ended that it could be used and abused to prohibit or require just about anything. If history teaches us anything it is that if a power can be abused then it will be abused. We have absolutely no doubt that if it becomes law as currently worded then it will be used to prohibit Naturism in a wide range of places. Beaches and gardens are a certainty and it may even include naturist events and clubs. The second call to action gives more detail.
When everybody, from NACRO to the child welfare charities, and even the police, are raising major concerns about this bill then clearly something is very seriously wrong. It is tabloid politics and ideology at its worst.
A quick summary of the problems
The Anti-social Behaviour Bill is predicated on a number of fallacies:
- that the safeguards are adequate;
- that law that has worked adequately in social housing is applicable to completely different circumstances;
- that the police and local authorities always use their powers honestly, proportionately, and objectively;
- that complaints procedures work.
The safeguards are blatantly inadequate. The Bill has been written so as to make obtaining the various orders and notices as easy as possible, and to make challenging the various orders and notices as difficult as possible. The consultation requirements are derisory, the time limits are ludicrously short, and how many "ordinary hard working families" can afford to fight the police or a local authority through the courts? Democracy provides little protection for minorities, even ones with millions of members like naturists, so long as voting is for a package of measures instead of individual policies, and so long as we have a constituency based first past the post electoral system.
We know from bitter experience that some councillors, some police officers, and some local authority officers are deeply prejudiced. We also know, both from our own experience and from the numerous cases in the media, that making successful complaints against constabularies and individual police officers is all too often impossible. It is not just that individual police officers have acted illegally and lied, entire constabularies, from the most junior to the most senior, have closed ranks in order to avoid accountability. It is part of the culture. If Andrew Mitchell was an ordinary member of the public he could by now have a criminal conviction. If a member of the public had killed Keith Tomlinson they would probably now be serving a life sentence.
Annoyance or nuisance can result from any activity if there is misapprehension, prejudice, or phobia. The correct solution is reassurance, education, and treatment, not prohibition of the activity. The Bill does not require analysis of real causes and it removes any requirement to consider alternatives to prohibition. Most of the high profile failures to protect vulnerable persons have resulted from a failure to recognise that there was a problem, not from difficulty in acting. Moreover it is relatively easy to amend the bill so that it's objectives are achieved without sacrificing civil liberties. There just has to be the will. Libby Purves, writing in The Times 28/10/13 commented that the Bill slipped through the Commons almost unnoticed and she hoped that the Lords would scrutinise it properly. She makes a very pertinent point that it is a modern tendency to invent new laws restricting our freedoms just because someone failed to enforce the old ones. - How true.
- 10 June The second reading, the real start of the Parliamentary process.
- 12 June British Naturism made its submission to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime, and Policing Bill Committee. This is the House of Commons committee stage.
- 16 July. The committee stage has to report whether they had finished or not. The list of committee members is on the MPs page. They are pushing this bill through with indecent haste.
- 18 July. Start of summer recess
- 2 September. Parliament reconvenes
- 28 October. The timetable slipped, thank goodness. However the bill was guillotined and that resulted in some parts of the bill not being debated at all which is grossly irresponsible.
- 29 October. Second reading debate in the House of Lords. Statements of approval and opprobrium but no amendments at this stage. Three mentions of Naturism so we are getting through.
- 12 November. Committee Stage which is when the real work on amending the bill starts. They are starting with sections 9 and 10 which do not concern us.
- 20, 25, 27 November. Committee sittings.
See the parliament bill page for the latest news on progress, proceedings, and what comes next
The British Naturism Response
The bill has the potential to do a lot of good but it is going to require drastic modification if that is to be achieved. Obviously our primary concern is protecting Naturism but this bill threatens everyone. Everyone from dog walkers, horse riders and kite flyers to smokers, photographers, and gardeners.
We have set up a specialist team and the members are:-
- David Gilderdale, (Team Leader)
- Christine Wright,
- Stephen Rice,
- other members of the BN team as required.
Our task is not an easy one. Substantial change will be needed to many parts of the bill.
We will be:
- making detailed submissions at the appropriate times,
- lobbying MPs and Lords,
- working with other groups and individuals,
- analysing the bill, government statements, Hansard, and other sources of information,
- following the debates,
- providing information so that all naturists can do their bit.
We need your help now, and we will be needing it again, as the bill progresses. Writing letters does work and there is a page to help. Please sign up for the British Naturism e-zine (opens email window).
Links to supporting pages
- British Naturism urgent second call for action
The Government spin
- Example letters to MPs
- by Duncan Heenan. This is a long and complex letter covering many aspects of the bill.
- another fairly lengthy letter
- letters do not have to be long. Even a couple of sentences can be effective and it all helps. For example "The bill lacks safeguards and will be abused to harass minority groups. In particular it will be abused to harass and criminalise any of the four million naturists in the UK who try to practice their lifestyle and manifest their beliefs."
- by Duncan Heenan. This is a long and complex letter covering many aspects of the bill.
Please let us know of letters sent and received, preferably by emailing copies, (scans or photographs of paper letters are great). It helps us to build up the big picture.
The whole bill, all 181 pages!
- Liberty's analysis of the draft bill.
Analysis by Josie Appleton. “This law is a blank cheque”. “Why not replace these 170 pages with one line: 'Bill to allow public authorities (police, local authorities, and their contractors) to do whatever they like'?”
The Manifesto Club writes "The Manifesto Club’s Banned in London map showed the worrying extent of public space regulation, with hundreds of banned zones within which ordinary rights are suspended. The new anti-social behaviour legislation announced in the Queen's speech makes all this look very mild. Every draconian power has been replaced with something far worse." The Manifesto Club's page also gives links to some of the many articles in national newspapers warning of the scope for abuse and corruption that this bill provides.
- The Naturist Action Group's response to the draft bill
- Petitions (there are several under way and we will add them here shortly):
Block Passage of Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill On 20/11/13 had 5,816 signatures.
[*]Lord McDonalds advice. It only covers two parts of the bill. He prepared it on behalf of The Christian Institute and they have added the yellow highlights.
- Block Passage of Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill On 20/11/13 had 5,816 signatures.
In the Media
27 May 2013 Letter to The Guardian newspaper stating the naturist case.
10 Juen 2013 Letter to The Times. Signed by a long list of children's organisations voicing much the same concerns as we have.
10 June 2013 The Times (Law). Bill ‘will force naturists to go undercover’
10 June 2012 Daily Mail. Anger of naturists at new anti-yob laws which could force them to cover up in ... A good article.
ASBOs were first introduced in England, Scotland and Wales in 1988 and were strengthened for England and Wales in 2003. Applications for ASBOs are heard by magistrates and the applicant must satisfy the court beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant has acted in an anti-social manner by committing acts causing or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress and that an order is necessary to protect persons from further anti-social behaviour.
The lives of many people have been affected by anti-social behaviour, some very seriously, and the current system has been difficult to apply. The new bill is a well-meaning attempt to equip the police and courts to deal with it quickly and effectively. There is a deliberate widening of the powers given to police by lowering the standard of proof and it has deliberately been made vague so that it will be a catch-all. By doing that they have made it highly ambiguous in places and open to misuse and abuse.
The Bill in more detail
The bill has started going through Parliament.
- Injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance (ASBO on steroids. If somebody does not like somebody doing something then make it illegal for them to do it).
- Public space protection orders (council does not like it so make it illegal and/or require people to do something).
- Closure orders (police or council don't like it so close it down. Can be done instantly).
- Community protection notices (ban a person from doing something and/or require them to do something).
- Police dispersal powers (The PCSO or police doesn't like it so get out of town/city/county and stay out for two days. Can be instant and can be made permanent).
If that all seems extremely wide ranging, vague, and draconian that is because it is all extremely wide ranging, vague, and draconian.
Some of the more obvious differences compared to the existing law are:
- The standard of proof has been lowered from “beyond reasonable doubt” to “the balance of probabilities”.
- The inclusion of hearsay evidence means that the reported testimony of an absent individual could be enough. There will be little need for real evidence of past or threatened anti-social behaviour.
- An Order can now contain both prohibitions “don't do …. “ and requirements “you must do …”.
- It greatly extends the range of things considered “anti-social” from “had caused, or was likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress” to “conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”.
- Lowers the necessity test from “necessary to prevent relevant persons from further anti-social acts” to “just and convenient”.
- Most of the requirements to consult have been removed. There is no requirement to consult on instant prohibitions and for the longer ones councils are only required to consult the police.
- Byelaws can be challenged in the magistrates court but for PSPOs it will only be the expensive and inaccessible High Court.
- Byelaws can be challenged as part of the defence against a prosecution. That will not be possible.
- Byelaws can be challenged at any time. There will be short time limits, a few weeks, for PSPOs.
The penalties are extreme:
- Enormous fines.
- Imprisonment for years.
- Bans from doing things for many years or for life. Even with the current ASBOs there has been ludicrous requirements. For example "Must not enter any shop in Cornwall" so how was he expected to buy food?
- Requirements to do things. They are probably thinking of things like attend an anger management course or pick up litter but it is completely open ended.
- Closing down any premises: businesses, homes, clubs, camp sites, fields, gardens, absolutely anything, for months or years.
- Anyone in social housing could lose their home, even if they have nothing to do with the alleged anti-social behaviour, a penalty that will not apply to anyone else.
- Pay the costs of those seeking the orders.
Any kind of behaviour is capable of annoying or being seen as a nuisance by someone! Unless a more robust definition is used then this legislation will be abused to control peoples lives and to interfere with their personal freedoms. It could be misused by neighbours, people with bigoted views, the powerful, and by misguided, over-authoritarian, or over-zealous police community support officers, police officers. and others. As it stands it can mean nearly anything and it is wide open to prejudice and personal views.
It is seems inevitable that prejudice, and fear of not being seen to do something, will result in action being taken against naturists. For example a police officer could go along a naturist beach and ban every naturist they find from the area which could be a whole county. They could close down a naturist event because somebody thinks that there might be nuisance caused anywhere in the locality. They could close down a naturist club if somebody decides that its presence in the area is a nuisance.
Nobody would doubt that there is a need for an effective way of dealing with yobbish behaviour, people who make other’s lives a misery and who terrorise their neighbourhoods. If that is what this bill is intended for it should be written for that purpose and be properly targeted instead of being a catch-all that can be misused against ordinary people going about their ordinary business.
There is an appendix to the bill claiming that it complies with the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights but that claim is very dubious and it completely fails to consider how the proposed law will be abused. The law should be clear and include protection for individuals against abuse of the law. Otherwise several of the Human Rights articles will be contravened, including the right to a private and family life, the right to express belief, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to assembly.
What do we do?
Don’t wait until your freedoms have been dramatically reduced; write to your MP. Stress the need for clear definitions that are objective and based on real harm rather than annoyance or nuisance and that the harm must be due to the activity and not due to misapprehensions, myth, or prejudice. The definitions must reflect the real intentions of the Act. Demand a Bill that is clear, easy to understand, and based on a society that is tolerant and robust. See the Call for Action for more detail.
Obsolete documents included here for historical interest