Councils could misuse open-ended powers contained in a new laws being introduced before Parliament to stamp out peaceful protest in public places, freedom campaigners have warned.
Provisions contained in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, allowing for new public spaces protection orders (PSPOs), have been drafted to rationalise a slew of existing measures such as alcohol-control zones, dog-control orders, gating orders as well as local by-laws.
Councils could, following consultation with the police, use PSPOs to crack down on activities judged to have a ‘detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality’.
People failing to abide by them could face on-the-spot fines issued by council staff or contractors.
‘This Bill has shockingly open-ended powers within it that could allow councils to ban everything from protests, to outdoor public meetings, to children’s skateboarding,’ said Josie Appleton, the convener of the civil-liberties group the Manifesto Club. ‘The list is endless.’
Ms Appleton said although people would have the right to appeal, the processes involved are so expensive and complex as to put them beyond the reach of most protest groups.
Isabella Sankey, the policy director for Liberty, said the proposed next-generation anti-social behaviour powers were ‘bigger and badder than ever’.
‘Dangerously broad powers granted to regulate the ‘quality of life’ of the community will allow local authorities effectively to shut down activity in public places,’ Ms Sankey said.
In response, Norman Baker, minister for crime prevention at the Home Office, said the Coalition was ‘simplifying the complex array of antisocial powers introduced by the last government’.
'This power will make it easier to stop the behaviour of those who act antisocially, turning our public spaces into no-go zones,' Mr Baker said.
‘Local authorities will consult ahead of putting an order in place and those affected will be able to appeal if they feel the order is not valid,’ he added.
A Local Government Association (LGA) briefing paper on the Bill this week also approved the proposal. It stated: ‘The LGA welcomes the introduction of these notices and the flexibility they offer, which will allow councils to decide how to take action swiftly and effectively to prevent and tackle anti-social behaviour.
‘We do not believe they are in need of further amendment.’
The Bill returns to the House of Lords on Monday where it will be debated by peers at the the committee stage.