Government abandons anti-annoyance laws

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The Reform Clause 1 campaign group has today praised the Government's decision to step back from plans to replace ASBOs with Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs).

IPNAs had been included in Clause 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill currently going through Parliament.

Had they been passed, IPNAs would have extended the ASBO's powers by prohibiting any action "capable of causing nuisance or annoyance" by any person in any place.

Campaigners argued that the wording and the low threshold for evidence compromised freedoms, and that the ASBO laws were already sufficient.

As anyone and any action could be interpreted as annoying or causing nuisance, there were serious concerns that a slew of unnecessary and costly cases would follow.

Reform Clause 1 brought together a wide range of organisations, including the Christian Institute, the National Secular Society, and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

The coalition warned the proposals would have a "chilling" effect on freedom of speech, outlawing activities like busking or street preaching.

They cited a legal opinion from the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald which said that a lone individual standing outside the entrance to a bank holding a sign objecting to its role in the financial crisis, could "meet the criteria and threshold for an IPNA".  The bank could argue that such a protester was annoying and causing a nuisance to their customers.

Lord MacDonald also said "a busker outside a shopping centre, or a street preacher proclaiming the end of days to passers-by may all be capable of causing nuisance and annoyance to some person".

He concluded that the legislation constitutes "gross state interference" and that the wide remit could lead to many harmless people facing prosecution.

Evangelist Austin Baker had raised fears in a YouTube video the law could "limit or even shut down" street preaching, street evangelism projects, and potentially even carol singing.

"It's anti-social behaviour to preach the gospel now," he said.

Earlier this month, peers voted overwhelmingly for Lord Dear's amendment to the Bill which moved to remove the phrases "nuisance and annoyance" and replace them with "harassment, alarm or distress", the same principles as the ASBO.

The Government have today confirmed that they will accept the key changes.

Responding to the news, Reform Clause 1 campaign director Simon Calvert said: "This is a victory for common sense and civil liberties – a day to celebrate."

"The original wording risked landing many ordinary people in court, which even the Government could not deny.

"Ministers were unable to provide a single example of genuinely loutish behaviour that their new wording would protect against that the old wording did not."

"I am delighted that peers, led by Lord Dear, stood up for our civil liberties and that the Government has today seen sense and agreed to accept the thrust of the Lords amendments."

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