Anti-social behaviour and the Civil Courts

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Civil Justice Council report highlights serious issues with how the civil courts respond to Anti-Social Behaviour

This Civil Justice Council (CJC) report finds that Anti-Social Behaviour Injunctions (ASBIs) are not working. The Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 transferred much work relating to anti-social behaviour from the criminal courts to the civil courts. Under the 2014 Act Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) were replaced by ASBIs, which were intended to better tackle the root causes of anti-social behaviour.

The CJC working party, chaired by Civil Justice Council member HHJ Cotter QC, brought together expertise from the judiciary, police, National Probation Service, charitable sector, academia, legal advice and practice, housing provision, and a local authority. Together, over nearly two years examining and considering this issue the working party examined; the steps taken before an issue is brought to the court, the conduct of court proceedings, the use and content of orders, and the penalties for their breach.

The working party found significant inconsistencies or problems in all areas it considered.

Critically the report highlights that there has been insufficient work to monitor the effect of ASBIs, following their introduction. There is an absence of data available to assess or understand fundamental concerns, such as the true scale of their use.

Additionally, the report highlights how cases are often not tackled collaboratively by the public services concerned and that underlying and often causative issues such as mental health and substance abuse are therefore not addressed.

HHJ Cotter QC said: “The Working Party found a number of serious problems within the current use of the 2014 Act in the civil courts to address anti-social behaviour. The aim of the legislation in achieving changes in the actions of those engaged in anti-social behaviour, for the long-term benefit of victims and communities are at the moment often not being achieved.

“We have made wide ranging recommendations for immediate and substantial changes to the use and operation of the Act and hope that they will be quickly implemented and the report carefully considered by all those involved in tackling anti-social behaviour.”

The report makes 15 recommendations. These will be relevant for a range of relevant organisations including: the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, Police and Crime Commissioners and the Civil Procedure Rule Committee.

Some of the key recommendations include:

  • an urgent request for the Home Office and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to collect data on these cases to allow for full analysis of their use and efficacy
  • widening the scope and provision of the NHS Liaison & Diversion service, to ensure a joined-up approach by local agencies to tackle the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour
  • widening the scope and provision of legal aid to ensure that no individual faces the prospect of being sent to jail without access to legal advice, and
  • adopting a new sentencing guideline to be used by the judiciary when hearing cases of anti-social behaviour.

The Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, chair of the Civil Justice Council and Head of Civil Justice, said: “I am enormously grateful to HHJ Cotter QC and this working party for their sustained effort to produce this valuable report.

“The Civil Justice Council has, with this report, shown again how valuable the independent forum it provides can be. This invaluable report highlights the need to work collaboratively to tackle the shared issue of anti-social behaviour.

“I encourage all of those who have an interest in this area to consider the report without delay. I will certainly be looking to take forward those recommendations which are directly within my area of responsibility in the courts.”