Council bans the wearing of face coverings

Sefton Council in Liverpool has brought through a PSPO banning head or face coverings. Religious headwear is exempt from the restriction, but there are no allowances for the myriad reasons people may want to cover their heads – rain, for example, or cold.

The order reads: ‘The head and face are not to be covered by hoods or any other face coverings save for specific items of personal clothing which reflect the individual’s cultural values’.

The aim of the order, apparently, is to deal with gun and gang violence in the area. Yet the order did not prohibit gun or gang violence, since these are already prohibited. It prohibited the wearing of hoods.

This is part of the new school of criminology of targeting the aspects of life ‘related’ to a criminal offence. The logic runs like this: people involved in gangs wear hoods or cover their faces, therefore prohibiting face coverings and punishing them with on-spot fines is a way of addressing gang violence.

Yet this PSPO targets the banal and anodyne aspect of life, rather than the criminal one. Many other people also wear hoods, and violent gang membership may be ‘associated’ with all kinds of things, such as music, the consumption of particular foods, and so on.

Having brought through this ridiculous order, the council and police will now have to spend their time fining people for their choice of headwear. This new law also moves council officers more into the frontline of law and order, giving them power to disperse groups from public places. Again, the focus is on otherwise anodyne aspects of social life: it will be a crime for a person to remain in public places having been asked to leave. Their only actual offence is to be found in the town square.

In the relentless focus on non-criminal activities, state agencies are undermining public liberties at the same time as they bring criminal justice into disrepute.