What are Community Protection Notices (CPNs)?
Community Protection Notices (CPNs) are powers contained in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, imposing legal restrictions or requirements upon individuals. Police and councils can issue these notices without going through a court, if they believe that somebody’s behaviour is having a ‘detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality’.
The CPN must be preceded by a Community Protection Warning (CPW), which is issued on the same grounds. The CPW states that if the person does not follow the requirements then a CPN will be issued.
It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with a CPN, which can be punished by an on-spot fine of £100, or on prosecution a fine of up to £2500 (for individuals) or £20,000 (for businesses).
CPNs can be issued by local authority officers, police and community support officers, and officials designated by the local authority. It is left to local authorities to establish their own procedures for the issuing of CPNs. Some councils provide officers with template CPNs that can be filled out on the spot.
How many CPNs have been issued?
36,480 CPNs were issued by councils between October 2014 and October 2020 (see data in 2019 and 2021 Manifesto Club reports). There were 9,546 CPWs in 2014-15, rising to 24,733 CPWs issued in 2019-20. There is currently no data on police authority use of CPNs or CPWs.
What is the problem with CPNs?
CPNs are unprecedentedly open-ended powers, lacking substantive restrictions to ensure that the powers are used proportionately and fairly. They have been associated with many abuses of power and injustices.
The problems with CPNs can be summarised as follows:
1. Low bar for issue
The standard of ‘detrimental effect’ is an unprecedentedly low bar for issuing a criminal notice (Asbos required ‘harassment, alarm and distress’, while a statutory nuisance notice requires conduct that injures health, or ‘unreasonably and substantially interferes with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises’). ‘Detrimental effect’ is a broad and subjective phrase, without previous legal precedent. There is also no statutory definition of ‘those in the locality’. Some authorities interpret this as meaning that only one or two residents need be negatively affected by someone’s conduct in order for a notice to be issued.
2. Poor evidence and procedure
Unlike statutory nuisance powers, there is no requirement for the authority to investigate or gather evidence before issuing a CPN. The CPN recipient is sometimes not even spoken to, or offered a chance to give their side of the case, before receiving the CPN. The lack of testing of evidence creates an inherent propensity for CPNs to be issued on the basis of malicious accusations or as part of personal vendettas. Indeed, there are cases where officials have issued CPNs to ‘get back’ at a member of the public (for example, because the member of the public complained about the official’s conduct in the past).
CPN recipients are often not told what the evidence is against them, or indeed what exactly they must do in order to comply with the CPN. Research carried out by Sheffield Hallam University found that the majority of councils lacked policies governing their use of CPNs, that council officers issuing CPNs had variable and often minimal training, and that councils applied different thresholds for issuing CPNs.
3. Criminalising innocent actions
CPNs are used to impose wide-ranging restrictions upon members of the public, prohibiting actions that are not intrinsically harmful and would otherwise be perfectly legal. For example, people have received CPNs banning them from looking at their neighbours, crying in their own home, or entering their own town centre. Some CPNs include very broad conditions, such as that they must not cause offence or harassment to any of their neighbours. Other CPNs impose minute instructions for how a person must conduct themselves, including how they must cut their bushes, the manner in which they close their front door, and where they must store their wheelbarrow in the garden.
4. Limited grounds for appeal
In theory, CPNs can be appealed through the magistrate’s court, but this is extremely limited. Some CPN recipients have struggled to find out out from the council exactly how they can request an appeal. It is difficult to get legal aid to appeal a CPN, which means that people are left having to face council barristers on their own. If a person loses the appeal, they can be billed for council costs that can reach several thousand pounds.
It is for this reason that so few CPNs are appealed. In total, there were only 179 legal appeals of CPNs between November 2014 and October 2019, of which 40 were successful. These 40 successful appeals were out of 29,043 council CPNs issued in that period.
Authorities tend to see CPNs as a soft and cheap option for dealing with a problem or dispute. One police officer told us that officers were ‘giving them out like confetti’, while a council enforcement consultant said that some council officers sought to issue as many CPNs as possible. However, it is often the case that CPNs can make the problem worse. This includes cases where CPNs are issued against vulnerable, homeless or mentally ill people, where the stress of the CPN makes the person’s situation harder.
CPNs can also aggravate neighbour relations, by setting the parties against one another, when the dispute would be better solved with mediation. In some cases, councils have spent thousands of pounds pursuing a pensioner for knotweed or an escaping dog, when the problem could be quickly and cheaply solved with practical help.
What needs to be done?
It is our position that CPNs should be scrapped. We are not convinced that there is a need for a separate notice in addition to the civil injunction and statutory nuisance powers. It is our view that all legitimate CPNs would be better pursued under alternative legal avenues.
The one arguable ‘gap’ is for a power dealing with low-level environmental/waste issues, such as waste clearance (this is one of the powers that CPNs replaced).
We recognise that some local authorities and trainers are attempting to limit and guide the use of CPNs to ensure that they are used proportionately. While CPNs remain, we support efforts to ensure that they are subject to due process and standards of proportionality that would be expected from any other part of the criminal law. To this end, we have developed guidance with CPN recipients for local authorities, seeking to introduce due process and proportionality into this ‘cowboy’ power.
For example, notices should only target actions that cause significant nuisance or harm, and should only be issued on the basis of substantial evidence, after investigation and talks with both sides. The recipient should know the evidence against them and be able to challenge it.
Most importantly, people should have access to a clear and accessible appeal system. This would mean better legal aid for CPN appeals, and capping council cost claims for appeal cases.
It would also mean local authorities establishing a system for considering written representations for amending or withdrawing CPNs. This is required by Stannard v CPS, which found that local authorities had the power to revoke or withdraw CPNs, and that local authorities should have a system for considering written representations from CPN recipients. (See our guide: The right to request withdrawal or variation of a CPN).