The home secretary, Theresa May, announced her intention to kill off the ASBO in October 2011. In a speech (entitled Moving beyond the ASBO), May announced her government was dropping Nerw Labour’s ‘sliver bullet’: For 13 years, politicians told us that the government had the answer; that the ASBO was the silver bullet that would cure all society’s ills. It wasn’t. Life is more complex than that. There is no magic Whitehall lever we can pull simply to stop anti-social behaviour. No magic button to press or tap to turn to stop the flow of misery.’
In January 2011, the Ministry of Justice released figures that showed that the number of ASBOs issued by the courts fell to only 1,671 in 2009, confirming ‘year-by-year decline from a peak of 4,122 in 2005, when the Blair government launched its biggest drive against antisocial behaviour’. The figures also revealed that, despite denials by Labour ministers, more than 5,500 people had been jailed for breaching an asbo since they were introduced in 1999.
Youth groups, civil liberties campaigners and concerned parents have all argued that ASBOs have the effect of ‘criminalizing the young’. ASBOs can be served against children as young as ten years.
The criteria that the magistrate must use in deciding to impose an ASBO is that the individual has behaved in a manner ‘that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress’, and that the order is necessary to stop the behaviour recurring. Breaching the conditions of an order is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison. The Government said that ASBOs would only be imposed on children ‘in exceptional circumstances’ but (according to the campaign group Asbowatch) more than four in ten orders have been imposed on young people aged less than 17 years old. Many have been imposed on children with special needs. A study by the British Institute for Brain Injured Children found that up to 35% of young people with ASBOs had a mental disorder or learning difficulty. Anyone who gets an ASBO can be publicly ‘named and shamed’, in other words your photo and personal details can be distributed by leaflets, posters and on the Internet.
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award