I missed a Telegraph article on Super ASBOs. Like other newspapers it talks about them being targetted at “gangsters” and “Mr Bigs”, and quotes the Home Office “suggesting” that the orders “might” be issued against up to 30 “suspected criminals” a year.
Of course, there are no such limitations in the Bill.
Now, don’t worry:
Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister,
- Under-secretary of State for policing, security and community safety, reporting to Liam Byrne, who in turn reports to John Reid -
yesterday insisted the new orders would comply with human rights provisions and would be welcomed by law enforcement agencies.
Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?
The Home Office bases this believe [sic] on the fact that orders are designed to prevent crime, one of the grounds on which breaches of other human rights is permissible.
Well, it depends.
There were six people suspected of terrorism who were issued with control orders. Note that none of them was charged with any offence prior to being issued with an order.
Lord Carlile, the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, was quoted by the courts as saying,
The obligations include an eighteen hour curfew, limitation of visitors and meetings to those persons approved by the Home Office, submission to searches, no cellular communications or internet. And a geographical restriction on travel. They fall not very far short of house arrest, and certainly inhibit normal life considerably.
The six challenged the orders, which were quashed by the courts because the obligations amounted to a “deprivation of liberty” contrary to Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In other words, you have to be careful about the extent to which you breach human rights when you are preventing crime.
The Home Office insisted yesterday that judges would take a “proportionate” and common sense approach when considering orders.
The orders, by the way, can only be applied for by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Director of Revenue and Customs Prosecutions, the Director of the Serious Fraud Office, and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.
However, the sweeping wording of the Bill makes clear judges can make an order if someone is suspected of having been involved in crime, or likely to be involved in the future, and even if the individual does not actually know or intend to act criminally.
Super ABSOs, part of the new Serious Crimes Bill, have been mentioned in the Guardian, the Times, and the Telegraph. The latter has the most accurate headline, I think, and the article contains the best example of how ludicrously it could be applied as it stands.
But in short, if the Bill is passed as published, the state will be able to punish you without you having committed a crime, let alone charging you and bringing you to trial.
You might want to read that again.
What the Bill says about “super ASBOs” is that the High Court (but see below) may make a Serious Crime Prevention Order (SCPO – doesn’t fall off the tongue as nicely as ASBO, does it?) if it is satisfied that you have been involved in a serious crime – anywhere on the planet – and if it has ‘reasonable grounds’ (the civil standard, meaning ‘more likely than not’) to believe the order would protect the public by preventing serious crime.
The order may last for up to five years.
The Crown Court may make an order if it has just convicted you of a serious offence.
You are exempt from such orders if you are under 18 or someone of a description specified by the Home Secretary under secondary legislation. I’m interested to hear examples of such people – Labour party members, perhaps? Certainly the Bill would allow it.
Such an order may contain “such prohibitions, restrictions, or requirements, and such other terms” that the court considers appropriate. Examples are listed in section 5 of the Bill. The court could for example prohibit you from travelling, continuing to work at your place of employment, living in your own house, or making phone calls or using the Internet.
If you fail to comply without reasonable excuse you could be jailed for up to five years and/or be fined.
In this context “involved” means you have committed a serious offence, facilitated the commission of an offence, or conducted yourself in such a way that was likely to facilitate the commission of an offence whether or not an offence was committed.Now, if the court issues it on the basis that you have committed a serious offence, you must have actually been convicted of it, and it must not have been quashed or pardoned.
I can’t see anything wrong with that, although it does lead me to question when people will be considered to have “paid their dues” – if I recall correctly, a man was recently served with an ASBO immediately after having served his time in prison.
But if the order is to be issued on the basis that you have facilitated or have conducted yourself in such a way that was likely to facilitate the commission of an offence, the court must ignore any act that you can show was reasonable under the circumstances, your intentions, and your mental state at the time.
So, what is a serious offence?
Serious offences are listed in Schedule 1 of the Bill: drug trafficking; people trafficking; arms trafficking; keeping a brothel; child sex offences; money laundering; fraud; corruption and bribery; counterfeiting; blackmail; copyright infringement; fishing for salmon, trout or freshwater fish with prohibited implements; unauthorised treatment or disposal of waste; or attempting, conspiring, encouraging, assisting, aiding, abetting the commission of a serious offence.
Such a bill seems wide open for abuse.
Also, is this another way to meet (unambitious) targets for bringing offences to justice?