Conference 2004: Motion 1: Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour

Motion 1: Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour

  • Conference is concerned at the culture of lawlessness on the streets of Northern Ireland.
  • Conference calls for the immediate introduction of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders in order tackle persistent loutish behaviour that threatens in particular vulnerable sections of the community.
  • Conference calls upon a duty to be placed on all Government Departments, public agencies and local authorities to be responsible for contributing to the reduction of crime.

Proposer, Stewart Dickson, Chair of Carrick District Police Partnership, said:

Like me, most elected representatives are inundated by complaints from residents, in particular the elderly and other vulnerable groups, about persistent anti-social behaviour.

Often it is not just the individual offences, but also the gradual accumulation of offences that is the real problem. Too many of our constituents are continually living under fear. Their human rights are being undermined. I am heavily involved in youth work. Let me make it clear, that most young people are very responsible citizens, but there is a growing problem of unruly behaviour – a culture of lawlessness.

More and more people are growing up, or even worse being brought up, with no respect for the law, and no understanding of the value of the rule of law to their own lives. Anti-Social Behaviour Orders have been used to some effect in Great Britain since 1999. Home Office research published in 2002 found that these orders had delivered real improvements in the quality of life in numerous communities.

What are they? They are civil orders that exist to protect the public from behaviour that causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress – almost like an injunction or a restraining order. A range of statutory agencies could apply to the courts. These could be the Police Service, the Housing Executive, or a District Council.

They must show that the defendant behaved in an anti-social manner, and that an order is necessary for the protection of persons from further anti-social behaviour by the defendant. ASBOs can be sought on a stand-alone basis, or as part of wider criminal proceedings.

The effect of these orders is to place restrictions on the behaviour or movements of the target individuals. They can apply to a shop, a number of streets, an entire housing area, or even an entire town centre.

If it is established that an individual has breached their order, a criminal prosecution can be pursued, with a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. There is a groundswell of support among the police, district Councils and some public sector agencies, such for the introduction of these orders into Northern Ireland. Though obviously not the entire solution, they must be a major plank of a wider community safety strategy. But they are not and must not be a substitute for the enforcement of the existing criminal law.

Seconder, Stephen Farry, Alliance Justice Spokesperson said:

Conference. Alliance has been to the forefront of lobbying efforts to bring Anti-Social Behaviour Orders into Northern Ireland. There is strong support for these measures across the community. I do believe that the argument, in principle, has at long last been won.

But the real battle is going to be ensure

  • That effective decision-making structures are put in place to ensure:
  • That the responsible authorities do indeed take forward cases; and
  • That they are held to account for failure to act.

In England and Wales, the process is much simpler as you have on the one hand the local police services, and on the other hand local authorities with responsibility for housing, education, schools, the streets, and the general well-being of local communities.

It remains to be seen what changes will emerge here from the current Review of Public Administration. But in Northern Ireland at present, responsibilities are split between so many different agencies: the police, the housing education, education and library boards, the Roads Service, and District Councils. In truth, no one is really in charge. Instead, what we have is a big culture of buck-passing.

If an issue falls along the cracks of organisation’s jurisdictions, then the temptation is there for agencies to wash their hands of awkward problems. We have already seen this in action over attempts to deal with the paramilitary flags and murals that scar far too many parts of Northern Ireland.

There are many questions regarding how ASBOs can be delivered in Northern Ireland that have still to be answered. Will the police only become involved with ASBOs in relation to formal criminal prosecutions? Will the Housing Executive only become involved with ASBOs in relation to activities within public housing estates? Will District Councils be only able to become involved with ASBOs in relation to their own property, such as parks, on in relation to their existing powers, for example noise pollution?

I have a very real concern that much anti-social behaviour will fall through the jurisdictional gap. This is all before we explore the issue of where the funding for the pursuit of civil actions is going to come from. Part of the action may lie in making all public bodies, including the Housing Executive, the Roads Service, District Councils legally accountable for crime reduction.

Conference, I urge you to support the motion, but also to recognise that it is not enough to place the powers onto the statute books, they have to be used.

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