Monday, 29 October 2007

Orders, Orders

Gordon Brown promised last week to "write a new chapter in our country's story of liberty"1. Meanwhile, two bills currently progressing through Parliament follow in the old tradition of increasingly illiberal legislation in the name of crime prevention.

Building on the dubious 'success' of ASBOs (Anti Social Behaviour Orders)2, provisions are made in two bills for two new types of 'orders':

  • The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill 20073 provides for Violent Offender Orders in Part 8.
  • The Serious Crime Bill 2006-074 provides for Serious Crime Prevention Orders in Part 1.
There has been sparse mainstream media coverage of these, and some of what has been printed has been somewhat confused regarding the orders' contents or between the two types5.

Violent Offender Orders, which are the type discussed in the Times article, are described as "civil preventative orders" provide for the imposition of specified conditions on persons convicted of, or committed to hospital or supervision because of, certain specified violent crimes. The intention appears to be to create an equivalent to the sex offenders' register for such individuals.

Serious Crime Prevention Orders are described as "civil injunctive orders...aimed at preventing serious crime". They can be imposed on individuals who is adjudged to have been involved in 'serious crime' (a variety of offences delineated in Schedule 1 of the Bill), whether or not such a crime has been committed. Restrictions can be applied to individuals' work, communications, travel etc.

Of the two 'orders', it is the latter type that raises serious civil liberties concerns. Adjudged 'involvement in serious crime' does not require judicial proof - a point of concern raised by Jeremy Browne, a Liberal Democrat MP, in Tuesday's debate on the Bill6. In addition to this, unlike the Violent Offender Orders, the range of offences listed in schedule 1 with which suspected involvement could result in being slapped with a restrictive SCPO is broad and somewhat less than intuitive. Who would think that fishing for salmon or trout with a "prohibited implement" (13(1)) might be considered a 'serious crime' along with drug trafficking and armed robbery?

The thinking behind the introduction of Serious Crime Prevention Orders is clearly the protection of the public from organised crime, where there is often insufficient evidence for a criminal conviction. However, it represents a serious encroachment on the principle of innocent until proven guilty, and does not recognise the loss of livelihood etc that would potentially result if an Order of this type were applied to the wrong person.


Hat-tip to PJC Journal for bringing this to my attention.

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