North Somerset Council is planning a series of broad-ranging PSPOs, which would criminalise many otherwise innocent parts of life. Here is our response to the consultation (you can respond to firstname.lastname@example.org).
Specific types of property PSPO – We do not think it is necessary, reasonable or proportionate to create new offences of causing ‘annoyance’ in a library, council carpark, museum, public toilet, or council building (‘Engage in behaviour as to damage to property, nuisance and/or annoyance’). No doubt that hundreds of people create annoyance for each other in these areas every month: because they are taking too long paying for the parking ticket, or talking in a library, or blocking other people’s views of exhibits at the museum. This criminalisation of annoyance on council property is at best so broad as to be meaningless and unenforceable; at worst, it allows for council officers to criminalise people for everyday tensions and gripes.
‘Area-Wide’ PSPO – The most concerning part of this order is the creation of a new offence of ‘failing to move on when ordered to do so by an authorised officer’. Police officers already have dispersal powers, which have been widely abused and over-used. It is incomprehensible why the council would wish to use the PSPO power to create a de facto dispersal zone for police and council officers. This is, in fact, illegal under the PSPO powers. The PSPO power enables councils to prohibit certain behaviours or impose certain positive conditions for behaviours. It does not give councils powers to declare dispersal zones and criminalise the non-obedience with dispersal orders. Dispersal powers are a different part of the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act, and are covered by different restrictions and modes of operation (they cannot be enacted by council officers, for example). You justify this new dispersal power on the basis that the measure is not intended to deal with ‘serious issues such as intimidation, harassment, alarmed or distress’, but instead is ‘intended to deal with behaviours of a minor nature such as the playing of loud music, wantonly shouting in the street, obstructing or misusing any ramps, stairs, doors or lifts in a public place’. Therefore, you envisage that your PSPO dispersal powers would be used for ‘minor’ issues, which means that people can be moved on for minor actions of which particular council officers disapprove. Infringements on individuals’ freedom of movement is a serious matter which should not be done lightly, for non-serious issues. We strongly suggest that you remove this element, which represents a gross infringement of people’s freedom and could put you at the risk of legal challenge.
We also object to your criminalisation of failing to produce a means to pick up dog mess: this is criminalising someone who has done nothing wrong, but may have used their last dog bag and be near home.
Parks PSPO – We object to your prohibition: ‘Skateboard, ride a scooter, hoverboard, roller blade or inline skate in a way that may damage property or as to cause annoyance and/or nuisance’. This is an overly broad prohibition, since it bans people from activities that others may find annoying. Annoyance is a low level of harm which is not usually sufficient for a criminal intervention (this requires actual public harm or statutory public nuisance). This means that skateboarders can be criminalised because someone (including a council officer) finds their activity annoying. This will restrict public freedoms and restrict free activities in public spaces.