In 1997, the new Labour government began a campaign to tackle the growing problem of anti-social behaviour in local communities. In a consultation paper of that year, the government recognised the need to 1’tackle this social menace’ in order to 2’allow people to live their lives free from fear and intimidation. ‘ This statement of clear intent resulted in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which created the Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO), a civil measure, designed to 3’deter… and prevent the escalation of such behaviour without having to resort to criminal sanctions. Since the ASBOs implementation this powerful government rhetoric has been questioned by many.
Evidence since 1998, suggests that the ASBO has been met with an inconsistent response from one area to the next, with some effectively utilising the measure, while others fail to even consider it. The government have acknowledged, in response to criticism, that the order has been applied in an inconsistent manner, with some areas finding them 4’effective and efficient, whereas others have found them problematic and too difficult to use. However, Sandra Bloor, the Tenancy Enforcement Manager for Wrexham County Borough5 stated that it was inevitable that when dealing with such a measure, 6’there will always be teething problems initially. ‘
Wrexham has issued 7 ASBOs since 1998 and was the first authority in Wales to implement the order, however, as in other areas, major difficulties have been encountered. Enforcement was singled out as a particular problem with the police reportedly 7’reluctant to take action against breaches, due to the criminal sanctions that they know will follow. Wrexham even encountered difficulties with the courts’ understanding of the measure, where a judge refused 8’to hear the trial in a civil court but regarded it as a criminal case… so we lost all hearsay evidence. ‘ Such examples of the procedure not being applied effectively, can offer an explanation as to why the measure has not been implemented more widely, and questions government guidance to authorities on the procedure that should be followed in such cases.
Many authorities, such as Flintshire, haven’t seen a need to utilise the ASBO with existing procedures effectively tackling anti-social behaviour. Practices including threats of eviction from council housing, the imposition of curfews, electronic tagging and the use of Acceptable Behaviour Contracts, have frequently been preferred to the ASBO. Prior to its introduction, 9’a recurrent theme in debate in Parliament was to question the need for the new provision,’ due to existing measures that were already being used effectively in tackling the problem.
The continued use of these measures by many authorities, in preference to the ASBO, questions its impact in tackling cases of anti-social behaviour. On the other hand, in Flintshire the absence of an application was said to be a 10’measure of success,’ reflecting well on existing methods used to tackle anti-social behaviour rather than a rejection of the ASBO. The impact of the ASBO again seems to have been weakened by the 11’excessively bureaucratic’ processes associated with its implementation.
The 2002 Home Office report on the ASBO, lists as one of the main problems with the order, 12’unnecessary bureaucracy and red-tape associated with applying. ‘ This has been supported by evidence that on average it takes a total of 13’66 working days to get an order granted and nearly six out of 10 cases required three or more court hearings. ‘ This indicates a failure in attempts to meet the government objectives, which were designed so that 14’an application would go ahead on the first hearing and adjournments would be allowed only exceptionally. This vision that orders would be granted in a single hearing has been described as 15’naive’ which gains much support from Home Office findings which state that there are 16’excessive delays at all stages of the application process. ‘
Excessive bureaucracy and the consequent delays must therefore be regarded as a key reason for the ASBO’s limited impact since its introduction in 1998. However the legitimacy of this argument has been questioned, as 18’much of the costs include the payment of staff… who would be completing this work anyway,’ a sentiment that was echoed in the 2002 Home Office report. This claim may not therefore be as well founded as many have argued and it has been suggested that the excuse is one that could be attributed to those authorities who have failed to effectively adjust to the new procedure19.
The inconsistent implementation of the ASBO across the country doesn’t mean that the measure has not had a significant impact on this area of the law. Some authorities such as the West Midlands had applied for 92 ASBOs20 by June 2002, and have experienced much success with the measure. Additionally, recent figures indicate a sharp increase in ASBOs issued over the last two years, with some authorities making extensive use of the measure.
In June 2000, it was stated that 21’over 70 ASBOs’ had been issued in comparison to the 22654 reported by June 2002. This is indicative of the fact that initial teething problems are being overcome and local authorities are more comfortable with the application procedure. The statement by the Home Secretary supported this view as he announced that where they have been applied, ASBOs have been 23’strongly welcomed by the police, local authorities and the communities they are designed to protect. ‘
A close working relationship between local authorities, the police force and other partner agencies along with the construction of an effective protocol has been put forward as a crucial element necessary for the successful implementation of the ASBO. 24 Where these have not occurred it has been suggested by Peter Wynne as one of the key reasons for a council’s failure to implement the measure. However, where a protocol does exist, in authorities like Wrexham, the ASBO is described as 25’a very useful tool’ in tackling such behaviour.
Evidence shows that where applied, the order resulted in 26’a reduction in the anti-social behaviour targeted,’ and 27’improved (the) quality of life of the community. ‘ The author of the Home Office report, Siobhan Campbell, also commented that 28’the ASBO has managed to curb unruly behaviour and help rebuild the quality of life in the communities. ‘ However, despite this limited success, it is appreciated that more needs to be done so that 29’even more communities will see real benefit from using ASBOs.
These sentiments were echoed by Frank Whiteley, Association of Police Officers, who after experiencing much success with the ASBO in Beswick, Manchester, described his approach to the measure as being 30’cautiously optimistic’ and this seems to be the general consensus amongst local authorities. It would be an exaggeration to state that the ASBO has been a success since its implementation in 1998, as its application has been varied and where applied it has not always had the desired effect, with breaches occurring and incidents of anti-social behaviour often continuing.
However, the measure has by no means been a failure. Evidence shows that some authorities have made effective use of the measure which has consequently reduced cases of anti-social behaviour. Further to this, following moves to make the application procedure easier under the Police Reform Act 2002, statistics suggest that authorities are becoming more comfortable in implementing the ASBO, and as a result, it seems its impact in the future will be more significant than experienced in the first few years.