Council's creating "bizarre" criminal offences
|A car-meet at a retail park|
Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) allow councils to ban all kinds of behaviour that would otherwise be lawful and, in effect, to turn that behaviour into a criminal offence. Personally, I'm not keen on local authorities having too much power, particularly after many were found to be abusing powers under RIPA to undertake intrusive surveillance to catch relatively petty criminals.
A PSPO allows councils to impose on the spot fines of £100 against people breaching the orders.
Examples of current PSPOs include:
- A ban on motorists entering a retail park in Colchester, Essex after 6pm unless they are using shops and facilities
- Criminalisation of begging for money in certain areas of Poole, in Dorset
- A ban on the consumption of alcohol and legal highs in public spaces in the city centre by Lincoln Council
- Outlawing the possession of an open container of alcohol in Cambridge
But, there is one question I'm confused about. It's already an offence to be drunk and disorderly. It's already an offence to drive dangerously or without due care and consideration for other road users. Why not simply rely on the existing law? Why is it necessary to give local councils powers to effectively create criminal offences at will?
Councils should, in my opinion at least, ask themselves whether imposing a PSPO is the most proportionate response to the problem. For example, if people are meeting in car parks at night then why not advise the land owner that the gates should be locked at the close of business. Most shops close between 6 and 8pm - you'll find that if people attending car meets have their cars locked in the car park over night they will stop meeting there, which is surely the point of the PSPO.
If people are drunk and disorderly then deal with them for that offence - if they are not drunk and disorderly but just minding their own business then what is the problem with them having a drink in a public area?
It is the fashion in the UK currently to identify things we don't like and then ban them - or at least attempt to ban them. I have long said that using the criminal law to modify behaviour is much like using a sledge hammer to de-shell a peanut