Lincoln Council bans ‘intoxicating substances’ in city centre

Lincoln city councillors have voted in favour of a ban on ‘intoxicating substances’. The policy will go before the council’s executive committee for final ratification on 19 January.

The law is made under new powers contained in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, specifically the ‘public spaces protection order’ (PSPO) power, which allows local authorities to ban anything which has a ‘detrimental effect’ on the ‘quality of life’ of the locality.

The law is intended to prohibit the consumption of so-called ‘legal highs’, but is drafted so broadly as to include all substances which affect the central nervous system, which could include substances such as alcohol or caffeine (the council says it would not include tobacco or medications such as drowsy cough medicines).

As currently drafted, the PSPO states that ‘Person(s) within this area will not ingest, inhale, inject, smoke or otherwise use intoxicating substances’, with intoxicating substances defined as ‘Substances with the capacity to stimulate or depress the central nervous system’.

This shows the dangers of such a wide-ranging power, which allows councils at a stroke to create new crimes without any precedent in criminal law. Whereas byelaws allowed only very specific kinds of legal restriction (ball games in parks and so on), this is a blank-cheque power which allows crimes to be invented from scratch.

The case also shows how councils can ‘consult’ with interested parties – in this case with the police and Lincoln Business Improvement District – who will tend to support restrictive measures of whatever nature. The only condition is that some people find that the activity has a ‘detrimental effect’ on their quality of life, which essentially only means that they find it annoying or unpleasant. What part of urban life would not meet this qualification? Road works, charity collectors, tourist crocodiles, people driving down your street? No doubt these are all annoying to some people.

And so the city of Lincoln police and council will land themselves in the position of fining or arresting anyone found to have taken a sip of alcohol, or presumably any other stimulating substance, legal or not, within the city centre. The council admits that ‘enforcing the ban could be difficult’. No kidding. What is most likely to happen is that it will be enforced selectively against those the police or council officers take a dislike, or who they think are ‘up to no good’ – the homeless, young people, or someone they don’t like the look of.

This is a new form of blank-cheque power which gives free rein to the whims of councillors and law enforcers. If it goes ahead, the city of Lincoln will be a strange place indeed after 19 January.




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