By Dr Stavros Demetriou
Lecturer in Law, University of Sussex
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 gives a significant magnitude of discretion to local enforcement agents to decide what counts as anti-social behaviour and how to implement their powers. The 2014 Act was designed to be flexible and to enable local agents to tackle a range of local issues. However, this flexibility can result in the inconsistent implementation of the law and allow local enforcement agents to use these measures as a means of indirectly criminalising certain kinds of behaviour whilst targeting specific social groups. To prevent this, it is important to ensure that these measures are used appropriately and target only behaviour that really has a negative effect on other people’s quality of life.
In order to investigate further the use of these measures at a local level, I conducted a two-year empirical study with local enforcement agents in two counties in England. Although my findings mitigate against some of the concerns raised about the potential misuse of the anti-social behaviour tools and powers, such as the possibility of targeting purely innocent behaviour, it is worth mentioning that the implementation of these measures can vary significantly across the country. In response to these findings, I have developed a guide intended to improve and harmonise the implementation of anti-social behaviour measures. It is underpinned by four principles to help ensure that the implementation is proportionate and justifiable:
- Focus on behaviour that is truly problematic
- Address the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour
- Establish internal and external review procedures
- The need for local enforcement agents to contemplate the impact of enforcement
The successful incorporation of these principles into existing anti-social behaviour policies would clarify the scope of the law in this area, facilitate its consistent implementation across England and Wales, and prevent its potential misuse. To this end, I have been working closely with local enforcement agents exploring various mechanisms through which this guide can be utilised at a local level.
To find out more about this project, see the policy briefing “A Guide to Implementing the Law on Anti-social Behaviour”.