Since the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act became law on 20 October 2015 we have seen a new class of behaviour previously quite lawful but which have now become criminal acts but only in certain parts of the country.
In Kettering it is likely that street drinking, skateboarding, charity collectors, anti-social driving and parking, begging, parked up ‘cars for sale’, loitering and obstructing the highway will shortly become crimes, although these are not criminal acts in Westminster. In Cambridge you cannot have an open container of alcohol without committing a crime and in Colchester you cannot use a retail park without buying something in it after 6 pm. Lincoln says you must not ingest, inhale, inject, smoke or otherwise use intoxicating substances which stimulate or depress the central nervous system – I wonder if they will prevent the sale of coffee and cigarettes there. In Poole you may not beg in certain parts of the town and Bath and Birmingham will make busking a crime. Dover, Oxford and Bassetlaw will make it a crime to walk you dog without having it on a leash.
I got this list of patchwork crimes from the Manifesto Club, which campaigns for freedom in everyday life. The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 gave local authority new powers to make things which were not crimes before the act was passed crimes. Unlike bye-laws these new crimes are dealt with by on the spot fines which can be issued by council employees and private “security” firms employed by the council. The great safeguard to the private firms issuing fines is that their employees must show you their authority if you ask to see it.
Before it can make an order the local authority must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that activities carried on in a public place within the authority’s area have had a “detrimental effect” on the quality of life of those in the locality, or that it is likely that activities will be carried on in a public place within that area and that they will have such an effect and the activities are or will be persistent.
There are many things that have a detrimental effect on the quality of life in one area for some people but have quite the opposite effect for other people. I will ask a few questions now, in the hope of getting some answers from the councils who have enacted these rules.
Does a free rock and roll concert attended by young people have a detrimental effect or a positive effect? Does it make a difference if it is a classical concert or a psychedelic trance party? Do political parties driving round in vans with loud speakers exhorting votes have a detrimental effect or a positive effect on people? Is it wrong to walk a very small dog without a leash but right to walk a large vicious dog on a leash? Are Christmas carollers buskers? What is the difference between being annoyed by a chugger and being annoyed by a prospective local councillor while walking in the street? Is one activity anti-social and the other not? If so which is anti-social?
If you give any politician the right to make rules you have to be careful that the right is restricted by appropriate checks and balances. If not, you will find our freedom drastically curtailed.