Lords fight plans to make 'annoying' behaviour illegal

Jan 8, 2014

New draft legislation is the 'most oppressive bill pushed through any recent parliament', say critics

A DRAFT bill that plans to make "annoying and nuisance" behaviour illegal is expected to provoke fierce debate in the House of Lords later today. 

The Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill – described by human rights campaigners as a "menace to liberty" – is currently nearing the end of its progress through the Lords.

The bill plans to replace Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) with Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs). It would permit injunctions against anyone aged ten or older who, on the balance of probabilities, "has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person".

The danger of the bill is that it potentially empowers state interference against annoying activities in the face of "shockingly low safeguards", Lord Macdonald, former director of public prosecutions, tells Politics.co.uk.

The Liberal Democrat peer says "it is difficult to imagine a broader concept than causing 'nuisance' or 'annoyance'". Political protesters, buskers and street preachers could all face injunctions, he says.

In The Guardian, George Monbiot describes the draft legislation as "the most oppressive bill pushed through any recent parliament".

He believes it will be used to "exclude or control the ever-widening class of undesirables". Annoying advertisers and opera lovers hogging pavements have nothing to fear, says Monbiot. It will be young people, oddballs and the underclass who are targeted.

The bill is described as a "menace to liberty" by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. "The law rightly protects us against discrimination, harassment, threats and violence. However, it has no legitimate role to protect us from feeling annoyed. That's a step too far," he writes on the Huffington Post.

The government has rejected claims that there is an issue of legal uncertainty around the terms "nuisance and annoyance", arguing that the meanings are well known in the legal system. 

But today in the House of Lords, Lord Dear will table an amendment to strike out the terms and replace them with "harassment, alarm or distress".

In a column for ConservativeHome today, Dear says that the draft legislation is "so badly worded that literally anyone and any action is capable of being annoying, or causing a nuisance to someone".

He adds: "If we win the vote it will probably force the Government into an embarrassing climbdown. If we fail, then the Government will have succeeded in extending its reach into almost every area of our lives. It will be able to regulate and outlaw our behaviour on an unprecedented scale." 

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