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Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 29th October 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench 8:30 pm, 29th October 2013

My Lords, it is a long time since I have been involved in a Home Office Bill about anti-social behaviour. Reading the Bill, I am reminded of how much we have now come to take for granted and accept that, in my view, we should not take for granted or accept.

I refer specifically here to Parts 1 to 6, in so far as they affect those who are under 18—children, teenagers and adolescents. Clause 1 is striking. The Government propose that the full majesty of the law should be invoked and an injunction imposed on a 10 year-old child if that child is engaged or threatens to engage in,

“conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”,

and that it is “just and convenient” to grant the injunction to prevent the child carrying on with the threats to cause nuisance and annoyance. Liberty describes that power as “breathtakingly wide”. I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for his forensic demolition of those powers, which I am sure that the Minister found very helpful.

If it is just and convenient to impose an injunction, the injunction will stop the 10 year-old from doing anything described in it. Presumably, there are limits to what can be described in the injunction, although I am not sure where they are set down. It may also require the child to do anything described in the injunction. The court deciding on the injunction can also decide that the child can be named in public, which means that the child will be searchable on the internet for life and the record gained aged 10 will always be there.

When the child defaults on any of those obligations—the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, helpfully reminded us that 40% are expected to do so—the child will be in more trouble and could have a supervision order imposed, which could include measures such as curfews and electronic monitoring that are normally given by the courts to people convicted of offences. Should the child have reached the age of 14, this “just and convenient” way could lead to some time in detention.

In case the Minister reminds me that I have not noted it, I note that, compared with the previous regime, a child will not have a criminal record when an injunction is imposed. I note that, under the previous regime, custody could be imposed for breach from the age of 12 and the Bill raises that age to 14. I note that the maximum sentence of detention for breach of an injunction is three months under the Bill, compared to the current regime which provides for five years. Those reductions in the draconian nature of the measures do not make them acceptable.

That is not to say that children and young people do not behave very badly. They can cause great misery to vulnerable people. To cite the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, that is very real. Surely there must be a better way to respond to a very naughty child. Surely there are dedicated professionals working in the field who can find another route than the one set out in the Bill to find the assistance that such children need, to help their hard-pressed parents to fight for access to the child and adolescent mental health services that they know they need but which they cannot get, and the appropriate education services, to make arrangements that are, to cite our international obligations to children,

“in the best interests of the child”.

Can the Minister tell the House if any other country in the world is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that has similar legislation in place? Also, can he tell us why the Government produced a substantial analysis of the compatibility of the Children and Families Bill with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but failed to do so for this Bill?

I briefly mention two other matters. First, I endorse what has been said so effectively by my noble friend Lady O’Loan about the presumption of innocence in Part 12. I also support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about devolving the funding for witness and victim services to the police and crime commissioners. This seems to me to be a very worrying step—not as a reflection on police and crime commissioners as such bur from a concern about the quality of service for victims. This country’s arrangements for victim support have been a model for the world and many countries have learnt much from us.

My particular concern is about the response to victims of rape and sexual assault. When they responded to my report of 2010 on how rape complainants are dealt with by public authorities, the Government made a very positive statement about services for victims of rape. They said that there must be a coherent approach that victims can rely on and that society has a positive responsibility to help and protect victims, aside from the operation of the criminal law. The Government have achieved a great deal with funding for rape support centres, Rape Crisis and other services. Once these services become subject to locally, politically driven decisions, rape victims will not get a consistent response that they can rely on. Can the Minister tell the House how the Government intend to ensure that these services continue to exist and meet the needs of women and girls, men and boys, who have been raped or sexually assaulted?