Thursday, 31 March, 2005

Recently, ASBOs have been in the press and have been touted as the answer to Chavism. Unfortuantely, I think the ASBO represents the darker, more authoritarian side to New Labour. It high-lights a disturbing trend in New Labour thinking and it's utter contempt for the principles of our democratic society that have taken nearly a thousand years to develop.

The problem with ASBO is that it removes the ancient right to due process; that is, if you commit a criminal offense and are charged with it then you have the right to a fair and open trial where randomly selected members of society decide whether your guilty based on the evidence heard during the trial. The right to trial is pretty much guarenteed for any offence that carries a prison sentence.

An ASBO is a court order served against a person's anti-social behavior. Specifically, it prohibits an individual from performing a list of acts that have been deemed unacceptable. If you have an ASBO served against you and you break the terms of it you can go to prison for up to five years. Here in lies the problem with the ABSO, this order is served by a court not by a jury. Technically, you don't have to commit a criminal offence to have an ASBO served upon you yet the penalty for breaking its terms can land you with a prison term of up to five years. This is clearly at odds with the concept of due process and to me, at least, it represents a serious step backwards for our democracy.

There are other problems with the ASBO, it flies in the face of the idea that everybody is equal under the law. A person under an ASBO can go to prison for simply walking down the street while everybody else clearly would not. ASBO's are also expensive, they cost around five thousand pounds each to obtain and a large fraction of these are ineffective; Of all the ASBOs granted thirty-six percent are broken. On top of this, seventy-seven percent of ASBOs are levied against people less than eighteen years of age.

This might all seem a little academic, after all, you'd expect local authorities to use this power sparingly against only those people for which all avenues have been exhausted. Unfortuantely, there is tremendous disparity between local authorities both on liberally power is used. Manchester has issued hundreds of ASBOs where as Wiltshire has only issued one to date. The disparity is not limited to quantity; there is a clear difference in what is deemed unacceptable behaviour.

Recently, we've seen the case of someone getting an ASBO served against them for howling like a wolf or the woman who recieved an ASBO them which prevents her from attempting to commit suicide. Of course, these are two cases out of hundred but it does set a worrying precedent and it's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.


21:55:38 GMT | #Randomness | Permalink
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