§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Baroness Amos
I beg to move that the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the draft Anti-social Behaviour (Northern Ireland) Order 2004.
The proposals contained in the draft Anti-social Behaviour (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 represent measures to protect the public from behaviour which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. The proposals focus on the introduction of anti-social behaviour orders. They form part of a wider range of measures, including restorative and rehabilitative responses, with the aim of ensuring that the justice system responds appropriately to behaviour which can blight communities and that people in Northern Ireland can enjoy a quality of life that is not ruined by fear of anti-social behaviour.
Anti-social behaviour is a matter of concern to the people of Northern Ireland. The 2001 Northern Ireland Crime Survey reported that more than half of 96GC those who responded felt that anti-social behaviour had increased in their area in the previous two years. Fear can have a very disabling effect, particularly for those who are older or more vulnerable, but it is important to note that in this survey younger respondents felt anti-social behaviour to be even more of a problem than those who were older.
The Government fully believe that we must now address the issue legislatively. That decision is informed by findings in Northern Ireland and evidence from practice elsewhere. In June last year, an anti-social behaviour count day in Northern Ireland recorded 3,150 incidents of anti-social behaviour.
In a study commissioned by the Scottish Executive to monitor the use of ASBOs, 62 per cent of local authorities who responded reported a perceived improvement in the behaviour of those given ASBOs. In Manchester, available evidence shows that 60 per cent of those who have ASBOs have not been prosecuted at all, either for breach or for any other offence.
Innovative ways of using ASBOs in England and Wales—for example, in dealing with the blight of illegal advertising—have been recognised in a recent survey by the environmental group, Tidy Northern Ireland, which identified areas where graffiti and illegal advertising were a significant problem.
Anti-social behaviour orders were introduced in England and Wales in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The provisions were added to by the Police Reform Act 2002, which gave criminal courts the power to issue an ASBO on conviction of a criminal offence and increased the number of bodies that could make application, and, most recently, by the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. Among other things, it provided that on ASBOs made on conviction, evidence used does not have to have been admissible in the proceedings in which the offender was convicted.
In April 2002, a consultation paper was published by the then Secretary of State on community safety in Northern Ireland. Issues identified that needed to be addressed included street violence, low-level neighbourhood disorder and anti-social behaviour. The resultant Community Safety Strategy published in March 2003 identified that anti-social behaviour legislation in England and Wales needed to be examined to see if it was appropriate for Northern Ireland. In the context of the findings in Northern Ireland and evidence from elsewhere, this draft legislation is brought forward.
Most respondents supported what the Government aimed to do. There were concerns from organisations involved with children. The points that they made were considered very carefully, and, as a result of the consultations, the Government included in the draft order the provision for courts to have discretion with regard to reporting restrictions for young people. The wording of the legislation clarifies that, where reporting restrictions are applied, they cover the whole application from start to finish.
97GC 5.45 p.m.
The Government concluded that, in the interests of the protection of all in the community, it was necessary to bring forward this legislation for consideration. It is worth noting that an application for leave to apply for judicial review in respect of the consultation and the process that the Government followed, brought by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, was refused. Indeed, the High Court found "no arguable case" for any of the arguments put before it.
It is essential in Northern Ireland that there is a partnership approach to dealing with anti-social behaviour. The draft order allows initially for three partners: the police, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and district councils. Partnership involving the Housing Executive allows the use of ASBOs without conviction to deal with anti-social behaviour in housing estates where the Housing Executive is the major landlord. Partnership involving district councils will allow anti-social behaviour relating to noise pollution, enforcement of byelaws and licensing laws to be targeted. It may be possible for other bodies to become partners in future, just as the range of partner bodies in England and Wales has expanded.
The draft order provides for the introduction of anti-social behaviour orders as a statutory measure in Northern Ireland. It provides that where there is no associated conviction, the police, the relevant district council or the Northern Ireland Housing Executive would be able to seek an ASBO on application to a magistrates' court in respect of anti-social behaviour. It also provides that ASBOs may be made on conviction in criminal proceedings where the court is satisfied that the convicted person has acted in an anti-social manner and that an ASBO is necessary to protect persons within Northern Ireland from further anti-social acts by him. It further provides that breach of an ASBO would be a criminal offence subject to a penalty of up to five years' imprisonment or a fine or both.
The proposals will form part of the wider range of tools to deal with this kind of behaviour and it is important to note that the Criminal Justice Review proposed a range of restorative and rehabilitative responses to low level crime which are being implemented, including youth conferencing and the police's youth diversion scheme, which involves restorative cautioning for young people under 17.
The measures proposed here do not aim to replace existing measures but to complement them. It is essential that the Government send a clear message that anti-social behaviour is not acceptable and that there are effective sanctions if people choose to act in this way. The Government's aim is to continue to build a safe and tolerant society for all the people of Northern Ireland. I commend the draft order to the Grand Committee.
98GC Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Anti-social Behaviour (Northern Ireland) Order 2004.—(Baroness Amos.)
§ Lord Glentoran
I thank the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council for so clearly laying out the order. In passing, I thank her for her patience and clarity in responding to our previous debate.
Reading Hansard from another place, I noticed that David Trimble said that he was surprised that Northern Ireland had waited six years for ASBOs. First, I want to make it quite clear that my party welcomes ASBOs as another weapon in the judicial armoury. There are many areas and occasions in Northern Ireland when ASBOs will be of value.
However, I am concerned that it could take up to three months from application to the delivery an order. Given how I see ASBOs being used in Northern Ireland, with younger people and in relation to unruliness in accommodation, and so on, the need is pretty urgent when such situations arise. Indeed, a certain friend of mine was having a terrible time with the people above him in a Housing Executive apartment, with banging, thumping and crashing at night causing a huge amount of noise. He could not get anyone, including the Housing Executive, to do anything, and ultimately went to the paramilitaries. That was very successful; it only took a few weeks. That is rather like the cynical, sad story that on the Shankill and Falls roads at one time you could get a divorce for £250.
I hope that the efficiency of delivery of ASBOs will be better than three months from the time of request. I should also like reassurance from the noble Baroness that the order will bring Northern Ireland up to date and in line with the legislation in Great Britain: the Police Reform Act 2002 and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. I hope that the order incorporates the 1998, 2002 and 2003 Acts.
On a slightly more negative note—although I do not mean to be negative about ASBOs—I should like some information about what the attendant bureaucracy will cost in sterling, but more importantly in time, especially police time. I should not like to think that this is going to be another heavy bureaucratic load on the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could enlighten me a little on that, especially as I know that the Government are continually looking for reasons to reduce policing in Northern Ireland. We do not want to introduce another heavy bureaucratic load on the police service when we are talking about having to reduce the level of policing.
However, on the whole, my party welcomes ASBOs. We hope that the Northern Ireland system will allow them to be delivered and used far more effectively than, I understand, they have been in other parts of the United Kingdom.
§ Baroness Harris of Richmond
I, too, thank the noble Baroness for setting out the parameters of ASBOs. We, too, accept that there is increasing cause for concern because of the fear that loutish behaviour can 99GC cause. I have seen a great improvement in the environment in Northern Ireland since I was last there five years ago. I am sure that that helps to counter the worst forms of anti-social behaviour. If people have a nice environment, they tend to behave better.
As we have heard, we have had legislation in England since the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and it has taken a long time for that to be initiated in Ireland. Groups in Northern Ireland have significant funds distributed to them of about £3.3 million to solve locally the problems of anti-social behaviour. Of course, there are ways of dealing with anti-social behaviour other than slapping on orders, and I shall refer to them in a moment. Indeed, the Criminal Justice Review talked of other measures, such as restorative justice, as a means of dealing more productively with low-level crime.
The preference on our Benches would be to implement acceptable behaviour contracts (ABCs) before dashing for an ASBO. They have been a success in places such as Islington. If the Committee will allow me, I shall give it an idea of how they have worked there. ABCs, as I shall call them, are voluntary agreements between young people, their parents or carer, and the agencies involved—perhaps landlords, the police, schools, social worker and so on—that certain behaviour is unacceptable and that the young person will stop it.
Their behaviour is monitored over six months and, if the ABC is breached, there are a number of possibilities, from moving to a notice seeking possession of the home, to an ASBO or extending the ABC to some other measure, such as referral to a youth offending team. They are highly effective, quick and cheap to implement, and they involve the community around the young people, supporting them to reform, rather than labelling them as bad.
The good points about ABCs as opposed to ASBOs are that they do not involve the courts, so they are a more practical option for local authorities that want to take quick, cost-effective action, and they are not a step on the criminal justice ladder for the young person involved. They require agencies to work together, which is essential in tackling the issues surrounding anti-social behaviour. As ABCs are voluntary and offender-centred, they require the young person to take responsibility for, and to tackle, their behaviour, and get them appropriate support. Different solutions are found in each case rather than taking a blanket approach—for example, curfews may not be the right answer if the problem is noise from within the home. As ABCs are voluntary, they need to be imposed, so no evidence chain is required. They can be used to nip trouble in the bud rather than waiting for the serious offending that requires an ASBO.
Part of the acceptable behaviour contract is monitoring by appropriate agencies, such as the police, landlords and schools, which can itself be the evidence-gathering necessary for an ASBO, should the ABC fail. Even if people favour ASBOs, they can use ABCs in the interim. Far from being a soft option on anti-social behaviour, the ABC initiative 100GC shows that the contracts work. They have been endorsed by the Home Office as a national model. I wonder whether this will be part of the proposals that the Government have in mind. Perhaps the Minister will consider extending the scheme to Northern Ireland.
The Minister has explained how ASBOs will be delivered in Northern Ireland. Will the police become involved only with orders in relation to formal criminal prosecutions? Will the Housing Executive become involved only in relation to activities within public housing estates? Will district councils become involved with ASBOs only in relation to their own property, such as parks, or as part of their jurisdiction on noise pollution?
The Liberal Democrats do not oppose ASBOs in principle, but we have some concerns about the circumstances in which they can be used and the level of seriousness of offence before an order is made.
§ Baroness Blood
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this order. First, let me say that nobody in Northern Ireland is opposed to a measure that will bring some form of law and order to our Province. Lawlessness is rife in Northern Ireland; it must be looked at and attended to with great urgency. But I have some concerns with the order in its present form in Northern Ireland. I want to raise six points, on which I will be as brief as possible.
The noble Baroness has already referred to the judicial case involving the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People. That raises some concerns. The commissioner's office was approached by almost all the leading children's organisations in Northern Ireland. They expressed concerns about the speed with which the measures were introduced in Northern Ireland and the fact that there was inadequate consultation. To my mind, the issues raised by the commissioner's office have not been responded to satisfactorily by the Government. I received an e-mail yesterday from the Northern Ireland Rights Commission, which has received no response to date, about which it is very disappointed.
I have a major concern that the ability in Northern Ireland to "name and shame" children raises many issues. It makes them very vulnerable to paramilitary punishment beatings. As many noble Lords know, I have worked in this area for many years. I would be very concerned that a measure such as an ASBO would be used against a child, whose name would become public knowledge, with the result that they would be the victim of paramilitarism or displaced to another area.
As we have already discussed, public housing in Northern Ireland is mainly provided by one body: the Housing Executive. We all know that housing in Northern Ireland is split along sectarian lines. I travelled to America two years ago to look at how displacement was dealt with there. They had a displacement policy whereby if someone in a neighbourhood was bad, they were moved on to the next one. That is fine if there are more than 100 neighbourhoods. But in the area in which I live, there are six neighbourhoods. I would be very 101GC concerned if an order was made against a young person and he was moved on. I cannot see that working. I raised the matter with the Minister in the other place and he assured me that it would work. From my knowledge on the ground, I cannot see how it would work, because if a young person is named and shamed and has to move on, that would probably mean that his entire family would have to move on.
I am a member of a health and social services health board. We have had paramilitary people circulating the names of young people who have had to be taken into our facilities for safekeeping. I am really worried that this aspect of the ASBO legislation raises the issue of putting the names of children over the age of 10 into the public domain. That could mean the destruction of their education and of the whole family in the housing. I am talking mainly about Housing Executive estates.
One of my biggest concerns is the question of who will police this. We are continually told that the PSNI is stretched to capacity. I am inundated by people ringing me to say that they called the police to be told that there was no manpower and that no one was available, and who were asked whether they could wait. I have had pensioners ring me about burglaries where they have had to wait three days for a response. I wonder who will be the leading light who will come in and scoop up all these young people. There is a real problem with young people on the streets of some of the big cities in Northern Ireland who are causing major concerns. I am worried about who will police it.
In Northern Ireland, as in the United Kingdom, it is a criminal offence to drop litter. We have signs all over the place and yet we have a huge litter problem. I drove through the main parade area on 12 July and my car felt like a tank, it was pushing so much litter in front of it. Hundreds of tonnes of litter were dropped and I do not know of anyone who was charged. If one goes around Belfast one will see why it is getting a name as a dirty city. Litter is being dropped everywhere, even though we have huge signs saying that offenders can be prosecuted. But, to my knowledge, no one has ever been charged. Similarly, we have a byelaw in Northern Ireland saying that people cannot drink in certain public places. That law is flouted daily, sometimes within sight of the PSNI. I have seen it myself. But no charges have ever been made.
My main concern about this order is naming and shaming children and bringing their names into the public domain. In Northern Ireland that can be an extremely dangerous thing to do. We are doing a lot of work within our communities on restorative justice and are trying to bring children and young people in and give them a different outlook on life. I am worried that they will be criminalised by this.
My other big problem with this order is who is going to police it. We are told that the police are already stretched. Are we going to recruit some of the community police that we heard about yesterday? In the United Kingdom, 20,000 community police are to be recruited. If that is the case, it is grand. I am all for patrols going round my area taking up the people who are causing all the trouble.
102GC While I understand the rules of Grand Committee, given the serious doubts that have been raised by all children's organisations in Northern Ireland, surely the Government should postpone the introduction of this legislation until its full impact has been assessed and a full and fair consultation process has been undertaken.
§ Lord Fitt
I associate myself with the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blood. I made some facetious reference to this order earlier. On reading it today, I think that it will be very difficult to implement it in certain areas and estates in Northern Ireland. Let us take the example of a young boy who is creating mayhem in an estate such as Ballymurphy or Turf Lodge, defying the wishes of the people on that estate, and whose father is a member of a paramilitary organisation. Is there any way in which an order can be implemented against the wishes of his father?
Recently, the Northern Ireland papers were full of stories of the INLA, a paramilitary organisation, which had taken it upon itself to police Ardoyne. It was beating up young people in the area and accusing them of anti-social behaviour. Two or three of the young boys were so badly beaten up, terrified and harassed that they hanged themselves. The Northern Ireland papers were full of reports on the issue. The paramilitaries in those areas have taken it upon themselves to decide what types of activity will be permitted in the area.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blood, said that she feels that the legislation has come far too quickly given the situation in Northern Ireland. I wonder whether adequate discussion took place with the PSNI. Was it asked whether it was prepared to police this order and to deal with all its possible side effects? I cannot see members of the PSNI going into estates under the control of paramilitaries, some of which are loyalist and some of which are republican. It is a fact of life in Northern Ireland that the PSNI is totally excluded from those areas.
I noticed a detail about young boys harassing neighbours. The neighbours are at risk as well. If a young boy's mother complains to the local authority or the police, they can find themselves in extreme danger. The answer given to this is the same as all other times when we have discussed these matters: that there should be no "no go" areas in Northern Ireland. But we have to face the fact that there are "no go" areas in Northern Ireland. Young hooligans in them can get away with effective murder: seven young boys were beaten up by a paramilitary organisation, the INLA, in the Ardoyne area.
The noble Baroness asked for further discussion on the order before it is implemented. I support her expression of concern. I hope that it is possible to have further discussion that will make this order in any way acceptable in Northern Ireland.
§ Lord Hylton
I follow my noble friend Lady Blood. It would have been far better to have had a tailor-made order suited to the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. For that reason, I agree with my 103GC noble friend that there would be much merit in postponing the implementation of the order until some of the detailed problems can be sorted out. There are three problems that I wish to mention.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, mentioned the time required to obtain an order. Perhaps there may be a solution to that in that I hope that an interim order can be obtained much more quickly than the full-blown one. Secondly, how will these orders relate to restorative justice? By that, I do not simply mean police cautioning. I am referring to matters such as voluntary agreements that have already been mentioned and the relationship between the person complained of and the youth offending team. Under the heading of restorative justice, it would be very good if some of those who have behaved in an anti-social way were involved in repairing the damage that they had done; for example, removing graffiti that they had put up. If they could also be brought to sufficient consideration of their behaviour, they would become willing to apologise to those who have suffered from it. Those are all forms of repairing and restoring the damage that individuals have caused.
Lastly, on matters relating to breaches of orders, I notice that these can involve imprisonment for up to six months. I question the effect of that in practice. It is a relatively short sentence and it is bound to disrupt the schooling of those who are still, in theory at least, attending school. What will be the impact on people aged 10 to 16? Will they be placed in youth custody centres? Have the Government thought through the question of the breach of orders?
§ Lord Glentoran
I had prepared a question for the Minister about how ASBOs would be policed in paramilitary controlled areas. I did not put it because, while I am a great admirer of the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, and have taken her advice on a number of occasions and will continue to do so, the whole of Northern Ireland is not a paramilitary area. There are many urban areas of Northern Ireland where ASBOs could be a useful adjunct to the judicial system. Of course, all members of the Committee understand that ASBOs would be almost impossible to use in certain areas.
§ Lord Laird
I welcome the draft Anti-social Behaviour Order. I firmly support the measures taken against anti-social behaviour to restore stability to communities. The Ulster Unionist Party supports the protection of the human rights of young people, families and elderly people in communities throughout Northern Ireland whose lives have been blighted by anti-social behaviour. The Government must be less complacent about the problem of anti-social behaviour in Northern Ireland than it has been in the past six years. They must keep the working of the ASBOs in constant view and make promptly any changes that are required.
Will any of the lessons learnt from best practice in England and Wales be applied to the introduction of this legislation in Northern Ireland? Will there be, for 104GC example, an anti-social behaviour unit at the NIO as there is at the Home Office? I welcome the draft order. I consider it a step in the right direction.
§ Baroness Amos
I thank the noble Lords who have spoken and welcome the positive comments that have been made about the need for anti-social behaviour orders, while recognising the concerns expressed.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, raised the issue of why this has taken so long. Members of the Committee will know that local authorities in England and Wales had powers in relation to housing, education, policing and other areas within their control that did not apply to district councils in Northern Ireland. It was therefore difficult to see how provisions in the 1998 order could map on to the Northern Ireland position. There was also a desire to see how these provisions operated in England and Wales. Picking up the point raised by the noble Lord. Lord Laird, we wanted to learn from the experience of England and Wales.
Changes have been made to the 1998 legislation by the Police Reform Act 2002 and, most recently, by the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. In the light of these changes, the success of ASBOs in England and Wales and the fact that the community safety strategy that was published in March last year identified that the legislation in England and Wales needed to be examined to see whether it was appropriate for Northern Ireland, it was decided to bring forward legislation for Northern Ireland now to replicate the provisions for England and Wales in a form that reflects Northern Ireland's housing and local government structures.
It is important to note that in England and Wales practioners' funding costs have gone down as they have gained experience in relation to anti-social behaviour orders. It is important to strike the right balance, avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy and having a robust process in place.
On the issues around the difficulty of implementing this order in Northern Ireland—the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and other Members of the Committee spoke about this—an anti-social behaviour order does not require the consent of a child's parent for an order to be made. If a child who is the subject of an ASBO breaches the order, he or she would be liable for prosecution anywhere in Northern Ireland. The police in Northern Ireland are fully engaged in this process and are involved in the planning. All three partners can enforce an anti-social behaviour order.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about the use of police resources. Other Members of the Committee were also concerned about the impact of this on the PSNI. ASBOs can save police time, much of which is spent catching persistent offenders or, more particularly, dealing with the offences that they commit. Many offenders come to court with 100 appearances against their names. Taking those people out of their offending patterns, taking them out 105GC of the areas where they regularly commit offences, will enable the police to take action against them simply for being in an area or undertaking an activity from which they are barred. The police will not have to catch them committing an offence. That will save substantial amounts of police time and enable them to focus on driving down crime. In a recent survey, the PSNI found that 85 per cent of burglaries in south Belfast were carried out by 15 individuals. Dealing with those people and those patterns of behaviour will start to make a real change to the figures and to the crimes that add up to a host of human tragedies.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blood, was particularly concerned about the issue of enforcement, which was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. It is not our view that we should not deal with anti-social behaviour because doing so would highlight the activities of youngsters who would gain unwelcome attention from paramilitaries. The argument that convictions highlight people's criminal activities could be made against the entire criminal code but it does not follow that we should abandon the criminal code. However, as a result of the consultation, we took on board the fact that, when appropriate, the court should be able to impose reporting restrictions in order to achieve an appropriate response to provide some degree of protection. I hope that that demonstrates that the consultation processes are valid.
On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, about ABCs, they are written voluntary agreements between people involved in anti-social behaviour and authorities such as the police and housing departments. They were introduced in December 1999 in the Borough of Islington so they are a comparatively recent development. They are now widespread throughout police force areas in England and Wales. They are designed to complement ASBOs but have an attendant flexibility due to being voluntary. They do not require legislation. We hope that they will be taken on board with ASBOs rather than it being a matter of there being one or the other.
§ Baroness Harris of Richmond
I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. The point is that if ABCs are used in the first instance one does not have to put an ASBO on a bit later. I would prefer the encouragement of those being implemented rather than going the full stretch to an ASBO.
§ Baroness Amos
I recognise the point being made by the noble Baroness. It may be that in the case of the 15 individuals who I mentioned earlier, who are persistent offenders, ABCs are not appropriate. However, as a degree of prevention before young people get to the point where one has to use an ASBO, an ABC is appropriate. The point is that there are a number of tools in the armoury. There is a degree of flexibility, and a certain judgment is required about which is most appropriate.
I remind the Committee that these are civil orders, not criminal orders, although a breach of the order is a criminal offence. On the specific questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, the Housing 106GC Executive will be able to use the orders against tenants and against private owners in areas where it is the chief landlord. District councils will be able to use them where there is anti-social behaviour in their areas.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, also asked whether councils would only get orders regarding their own properties. A council can apply if a property of an adjoining council is a problem. An ASBO can apply throughout the whole of Northern Ireland. In seeking an ASBO, identification will be made at that point about where it will apply. It can apply to the whole of Northern Ireland.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blood, raised a series of very important questions. Indeed, would like to thank her for recognising that it is not an easy environment in which to work. That is why a number of noble Lords have welcomed what is being proposed here, despite the concerns that are being expressed. On the issue of the Human Rights Commission, I understand that it has had a meeting with officials on this issue.
On the specific points raised by the noble Baroness, first, in relation to the challenge made by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, I am, of course, aware that he sought leave to apply for judicial review of the Minister's decision to put this draft order before Parliament for approval. Both the applicant and the Government presented arguments. The commissioner failed to persuade Mr Justice Girvan that there was an arguable case in any of the issues raised in support of the application for leave. This included the issues raised in relation to consultation. The issues raised were fully dealt with by Mr Justice Girvan in his judgment in the application for leave to apply for judicial review. In relation to consultation, he said:A decision by the Minister to consult in the way in which he did could not be considered irrational or unlawful".On the issue of civil procedure, with its lesser safeguards, this is not the case. In a case, Clingham and McCann, the House of Lords accepted the justification and good sense of ASBOs, which are intended to protect the fundamental rights of the community that suffers from anti-social behaviour. ASBO procedures are subject to due process in court and the anti-social behaviour must be proven to the criminal standard, which was held by the House of Lords in McCann. Any proceedings for breach of an ASBO will be criminal proceedings.
In relation to possible imprisonment in Northern Ireland, if a child breaches an ASBO and goes to court, he or she will be offered a youth conference. Youth conferencing was introduced as part of the Criminal Justice Review and involves the child and its family and the victim, if the victim wishes it. The aim is that a plan will be drawn up and taken through, which can involve reparation and restitution.
On the issue of the naming and shaming, about which the noble Baroness is clearly very concerned, the order gives the court discretion to impose reporting restrictions when making an ASBO against a child, as I have already mentioned. The wording of the 107GC legislation is clear that the whole of the proceedings is covered. The restrictions cover television and radio broadcasts as well as newspaper reports, which goes beyond the position in England and Wales. Courts will not act carelessly and will be in a position to make a decision on a case-by-case basis. The Government are providing a statutory measure with all of the safeguards in law so that people do not turn to those who would mete out paramilitary-style justice.
On the provision of public housing and the sectarian split, an ASBO can be used to stop someone being in an area where he has been acting in an anti-social way and the court decides that an order is necessary for the protection of persons from further anti-social behaviour. However, the sanctions must be reasonable and proportionate, and the court, as a public body, must interpret the order in a way that is human rights compliant.
On the issue of whether an ASBO might result in homelessness, it is not inconceivable but highly unlikely that a court applying the proportionality test would conclude that a person should be excluded from their home, though if alternative accommodation was available that might be appropriate.
I believe that I have dealt with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, in relation to the Police Service of Northern Ireland being stretched. But I underline the fact that the approach is multi-agency and that the applying partner will have the power to enforce an ASBO.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised the issue of interim ASBOs, which will enable a court to order an immediate stop to anti-social behaviour. That protects the public more quickly and reduces the scope for witness intimidation, sending a clear message to the community that anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated. It removes the opportunity for the behaviour to continue while the application is being processed.
On the issue of the order being tailor-made, I made it clear that this was a matter of learning from what has happened in England and Wales. The measures have been consulted on, and they do not set aside restorative justice orders. I repeat—measures must be reasonable and proportionate.
I have answered the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, on lesson learning. As for the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about whether we shall have more young people going to prison, I hope that that will not be the case. It is important to emphasise that in Northern Ireland, if a child breaches an ASBO and goes to court, he or she will be given the option of a youth conference—as I said, in relation to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blood. If it becomes a matter of custody, the place of custody would be a juvenile centre for 10 to 17 year-olds. But I should like Members of the Committee to remember the availability of the youth conference, which was one of the recommendations of the criminal justice review.
On Question, Motion agreed to.