Tuesday, June 21, 2005

ASBOs Yet Again

Those of us who have reservations about the way in which Antisocial Behaviour Orders are being used in some cases have been encouraged by a recent Divisional Court judgement (W v DPP - reported in today's Times).

The defendant appealed against an absolute discharge, which is pretty unusual, but the appeal was on a principle of law. As I read it, and I am not a lawyer, the defendant had been made subject to an ASBO that forbade him from committing any criminal offence - which would be illegal in any event. That, in the view of the wise Lord Justice Brooke, was too wide, and Mr. Justice Field agreed. The prohibitions ordered had to be "sufficiently specific and clear to enable the restricted party to comply without difficulty".

So the appellant, who was convicted for breaching his ASBO as well as for the petty theft that formed the essence of the breach, was convicted twice on the same facts, even though the lower court decided to punish him only once.

I hope that the higher courts continue to force those who apply for ASBOs to give more thought to their terms, and to remind courts who consider the orders to make the terms no more onerous than necessary to prevent the offender from continuing the behaviour that led to the application for the order. ASBOs are potentially a very useful measure to protect the public, but they must be very carefully drafted if they are not to fall into disrepute.

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