Sobriety Orders

The BBC reports this morning that the Government is planning to pilot Sobriety Orders as a method of preventing people from committing alcohol fuelled crime.  The thinking being that if you commit a crime that is linked to alcohol (usually meaning you were drunk at the time, but not always) then somebody will test you regularly to make sure that you are not drinking.

As with all new initiatives, it really isn't that new.  Sure it has the unique selling point of the breath tests and ankle bracelets for reporters to get their teeth into, but will the new orders actually be any different from an ASBO?  Now, ASBOs are widely used in England and Wales to criminalise behaviour that wouldn't otherwise be criminal.  Prosecutors for years have been applying for ASBOs that require people to cease being drunk in public.  Judges are loath to grant such ASBOs for the very simple reason that often the people against whom they are targeted are alcoholics and while the courts would very much like them to stop drinking the reality is that they can't stop drinking and what they need is two things: 1. help to stop hitting the bottle; and 2. a desire to give up on the booze.  The courts can provide the former but not the latter.  I know some probation officers read this blog and maybe they will correct me, but my experience is that orders directing alcoholics or drug addicts to stop drinking/chasing the dragon never work unless the recipient of the order wants to give up.

I have no doubt that the Government intend these orders to be used against people who go out on a Friday night, get drunk and start a fight.  Maybe they will be used against them.  Will they work on them?  I have no idea but I doubt it.  The Prison Service runs a course called Enhanced Thinking Skills, which aims to help offenders face the situations that led them to commit crime and learn new non-criminal ways of handling the situation... I guess it's really a lesson in how to behaviour like a normal member of society.  I suspect that a course like that in the community would be more beneficial than a booze monitoring order that lasts a couple of months; but of course those courses would be very expensive while ankle monitors are relatively cheap.

I also note from the BBC report that there is a suggestion that the police will dole out these orders as part of the conditional cautions they already hand out to offenders.  First, I have no idea how many offenders receive conditional cautions, but I can tell you that I go through every single case that my firm deals with and I cannot recall ever coming across a conditional caution.  Secondly, if anybody is going to issue what Prime Minister David Cameron describes as an order designed to restrict the offenders freedom then personally I think it should be a court.  I have no doubt that some people who read this think I'm just saying that because they imagine I earn shed loads of cash by having cases delayed and delayed in court (which no matter how many times I explain how solicitors are paid never seems to go away).  But that isn't the reason.  When a court passes a sentence 9 times out of 10 it will have the benefit of hearing from the prosecution, defence and a probation officer who will have looked at the offence, spoken with the offender and produced a report with recommendations as to how future offending can be prevented.  Whereas the police will have had the defendant in front of them with a simple decision to make: accept the caution or go to court and get a criminal record.

On a final point about the use of conditional cautions in this way: it does occur to me that if a crime is so bad as to require punishment by loss of some part of your liberty to do what would otherwise be lawful then isn't it also a crime that the offender deserves to receive a criminal record for committing?


  1. 'Tell people to stop drinking or taking drugs.' It's such a brilliantly simple idea, however your suspicion about whether it will work or not is well-founded! We'd be out of a job for a kick-off. There's a better chance of hell freezing over in my professional opinion.

  2. The only purpose for these sorts of edicts from government is to give the impression that the government is doing something, and therefore they hope to get more votes at the next election. Their effect on the criminal, or not so criminal, classes is completely immaterial.

  3. Sounds like a load of populist crap to me. Like Drink Banning Orders. Or Violent Offender Orders (anyone ever known a VOO to actually be imposed?).

    The tools are already there in the form of ASBO's and the types of exclusions that can be placed on an offender as part of a community order in any event.

    For someone to be placed on a community order that this new requirement would be attached to they have to consent in any event. The only people that are going to consent to this type of order therefore either won't have an alcohol problem that would need addressing or alternatively they actively want help in any event, which suggests that they would engage with an alcohol activity requirement which provides more treatment than the simple instruction "thou shalt not drink".

    Whilst I have no doubt that my local railway/bus station would be a far more pleasant place to go if the alcoholics could be persuaded to stop drinking, I can't see any of them being able to comply with any order in which they have to go to a police station to be breathalysed every other day. These people also always tend to be dealt with in either the primary band or by immediate custody as the court recognises that there is no effective way they can be dealt with in the community. Thus the people that we all would prefer be sober won't be affected by this and the only people that the order could be used with are the idiots who fight because they can't hold their beer. However, them being dry for 3 months doesn't rehabilitate at all and anyone want to guess how they'd celebrate the end of the order? A curfew would be every bit as effective in punishing and preventing further offences from this type of person.


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