Manifesto Club briefing: Criminal Justice Bill

The Criminal Justice Bill (CJB) will extend unchecked police and council powers in public spaces and in the home. This briefing concerns the CJB’s amendments to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (ASBCPA).

Over the past 10 years, the Manifesto Club has documented the injustices and absurd laws that have resulted from the ASBCPA, particularly Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) and Community Protection Notices (CPNs). These orders lack basic checks to ensure they are used justly and towards the correct ends: they have been used to ban standing in groups or picking up stones, while individuals have been ordered not to feed birds in their garden or not to look at their neighbours.

The reforms introduced by the Criminal Justice Bill will introduce even more unchecked powers, which will have an even more perverse and unjust effect on the ground.

We note the very narrow nature of the Home Office consultation that informed the Criminal Justice Bill. This consultation achieved 299 responses, 269 of which were from the police, community safety partnerships, local authorities, or social housing. Yet even this narrow constituency was far from being enthusiastic about many of the proposals that have been included in the Criminal Justice Bill. For example, only a very slight majority (52%) supported the police being given the power to make PSPOs, and the same figure agreed that the age limit should be lowered for CPNs.

Below we have outlined the problematic parts of the Criminal Justice Bill in relation to amendments to the ASBCPA.

1. Police given powers to issue Public Spaces Protection Orders.

Currently, only local authorities can make Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) (legal orders that ban or restrict activities in public spaces). This power is very poorly regulated: there is no statutory requirement for public consultation, and the order can be passed by a single council officer if they think that a particular activity has a ‘detrimental effect’ on the ‘quality of life’. Recent Manifesto Club research found there are currently over 2000 PSPOs banning activities including rough sleeping, loitering, ball games, wild swimming, selling lucky charms, and picking up stones.

Section 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill would confer the power to make PSPOs to the police. This would greatly increase the potential for abuse of this power, since the police are not democratically accountable and have a more restricted public interest than local authorities. The police will tend to make laws that make their lives more convenient, and to help the policing of an area: indeed, some of the worst PSPOs (such as bans on foul language or powers to ban people from public spaces) were passed by councils after requests from local police forces. Public life should not be organised around the convenience of the police; giving police chiefs what are in effect bylaw powers would be a dangerous and ill-advised step.

  • Recommendation: Section 68 should be removed.

2. Community Protection Notices issued to children as young as 10.

Community Protection Notices (CPNs) are legal orders that can be issued by local authorities or police officers, if they believe that a person’s conduct has a ‘detrimental effect’ on the ‘quality of life’. These orders can be written out on the spot by a single officer: the lack of due process means that unfair or ill-founded orders are likely, yet appeals are very difficult, without accessible legal aid. One lawyer who specialised in CPNs estimated that 9 out of 10 CPNs could be overturned with a proper legal defence.

Manifesto Club research found that nearly 50,000 CPNs have been issued since 2014: people have received notices ordering them not to feed birds in their garden, or not to keep their wheelbarrow behind their garden shed, while homeless people have been barred from the town centre or prevented from receiving donations.

Section 67 of the Criminal Justice Bill will lower the minimum age for CPNs to 10. This would put children who are still in primary school in the position of having to defend themselves against complex legal orders.

  • Recommendation: Section 67 should be removed.

3. PSPO and CPN penalties increase from £100 to £500.

Section 70 of the Criminal Justice Bill would increase on-the-spot fines for the violation of PSPOs and CPNs from £100 to £500. This is an extremely disproportionate penalty, given that PSPO fines are currently issued for such anodyne offences as loitering, swearing, begging, wild swimming, busking, feeding birds, or drinking in a public space.

Manifesto Club research found that there were 13,443 penalties issued in 2022 for the offence of violating a PSPO. These included an 82-year old fined for cycling his bike in Grimsby town centre, and another man fined for silently praying outside an abortion clinic in Bournemouth. The potential for injustice is heightened by the fact that 43 councils employ a private company to issue PSPO penalties, and most of these companies are paid per fine, which gives them an incentive to issue as many penalties as possible. These incentives will be increased with the planned 400% increase in penalty level.

  • Recommendation: Section 70 should be removed.

4. New powers to order homeless people.

Homeless people are already one of the primary targets for the use of PSPOs, CPNs, and dispersal powers. Recent research by Sheffield Hallam University found that the experience of being ‘moved on’ or having belongings confiscated is a daily reality for many of those experiencing street homelessness.

Sections 38-62 of the Criminal Justice Bill create two new powers that specifically target rough sleepers: ‘nuisance rough sleeping’ powers, and ‘nuisance begging’ powers. Each of these will include a ‘direction’ (an order to leave a defined area), a ‘prevention notice’ (an order banning or requiring certain activities), and an ‘prevention order’ (a notice that is obtained through a Magistrate’s court).

These orders can be issued on flimsy grounds. The ‘direction’ requires only that a person ‘is likely to engage’ in ‘nuisance begging’, which is defined as begging in certain locations (on public transport or within 10m of a ticket machine), or begging that ‘is likely to cause’ distress to another person. ‘Nuisance rough sleeping’ powers can be applied if a person ‘is intending to sleep rough in a place (or gives the appearance that P is sleeping rough, or intending to sleep rough, in the place)’ and ‘does something that is a nuisance’.

These new orders carry a maximum penalty of a £2500 pound fine or 1 month’s imprisonment (or both). This means that a homeless person could be imprisoned and fined for failing to leave an area for three days when directed by an authorised officer (‘directions’ have no right of appeal).

  • Recommendation: Sections 38-62 should be removed.

5. Other problematic powers in the Bill.

The Criminal Justice Bill will also increase the scope of other problematic powers:

These changes all increase the scope and duration of powers, and extend them to new authorities, who are even less equipped to use them. In a word, the drive is to strengthen the hand of the prosecution at the expense of the defence. Giving more arbitrary power to officials will not build ‘community’, any more than it will achieve efficient enforcement or the just and effective resolution of disputes.

Further reading

The Manifesto Club is contacted every week by people facing a restrictive Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), or individuals who have received an unjust Community Protection Notice (CPN). Some of these case studies were documented in our recent report Victimised by Arbitrary Power, which shows the human cost of blank-cheque power. We recently published reports giving the latest picture on PSPOs and CPNs, showing the absurd and irrational ways in which these powers are being used, and the dire need for some proper checks and due process.