Anti-social behaviour laws: The new village stocks?

By Tony Hudson

Anti-social behaviour orders "must not become a modern pillory or stocks", an influential committee of MPs warned today.

The report by the home affairs select committee was issued in response to the government's proposed "Community Remedy" provisions to anti-social behaviour.

Under the proposed scheme, members of a local community can demand a response to complaints of anti-social behaviour after a certain number are made against an individual. This has been called the 'community trigger'.

While the committee called the community remedy a "welcome addition" to anti-social behaviour laws as a way to satisfy victims without exposing the perpetrator to the criminal justice system, they expressed concern that "individuals could use the trigger in a malicious, vexatious or indeed prejudicial way".

The report recommended the creation of safeguards to prevent such an outcome.

"The community trigger is meant to be the last line of defence to protect the public from anti-social behaviour. No one should have to complain more than five times before they see action", said Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee.

The proposal was criticised by Gloria De Piero, Labour's shadow home office minister.

"The home secretary's proposed community trigger is not the answer. Recommending that people have to wait until five complaints have been made before agencies have to act does not reflect the misery that can be caused by anti-social behaviour", she said.

Pilots for the scheme are already taking place in areas such as Manchester and Brighton. A report on their effectiveness is expected in time for Easter.