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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Essay on Anti-Social Behavior Order

Anti-Social Behavior Order
There are acts which are classified as crimes but there are also some acts which are not necessarily crimes but are against the social mores and customs of the society.  The former is punished and penalized by imprisonment.  Persons who commit crimes are labeled by the society as convicts.  The latter is not penalized and punished by the government in some jurisdictions.  This is a mistake as many of today’s worst criminals started by violating social mores and customs when they were children.  Oftentimes, the criminals would start by vandalizing properties or making graffiti in the spirit of joy and fun.  Others simply use foul and abusive language or engage in threatening behavior, or harass another person of different race or use homophobic language.  When they realized that despite these activities they remain unpunished, they start to violate laws and eventually commit crimes.  It is because of this reason that there is a clamor against those behaviors which are technically not considered crime but are enough to cause significant stress to other persons. (“ASBO: What's this all about then?” 2)

Anti-Social Behavior
            In the United Kingdom, these acts are being punished.  They are called anti-social behavior which is punished under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.  It is a legal innovation introduced by the Blair government in 1998. (A.W. Brian Simpson 230) There is no fixed definition of what anti-social behavior is.  Any behavior is considered anti-social when it causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons.  It is an intimidating and threatening activity that affects other person’s enjoyment of their own privacy and quality of life. (“Anti-social Behavior” 1)

Among the examples of anti-social behavior are: a) graffiti or the act of individuals who destroys the aesthetic quality of private and public property; b) abusive and intimidating language that are often directed at the minorities; c) excessive noise for instance setting off fireworks late at night; d) littering; e) drunken behavior in the streets; or f) dealing or buying drugs on the street.  This list, however, is not exhaustive.  Any act which can be considered as causing harassment, alarm or distress against another person may be considered as an anti-social behavior.   Thus, any person who may find that the activity of another person harasses, alarms or gives him distress, then the activity is considered an anti-social behavior.

Reasons why Anti-Social Behavior should be stopped?
            Strictly speaking, the acts and behaviors previously mentioned are not really serious or dangerous.  In reality, these infractions are just minor.  While it may appear that these acts are minor infractions, the United Kingdom takes these minor infractions seriously.   There are two reasons why these activities should not be neglected.  The first is that these activities affect everyone in the community.  They disrupt the peace and harmony of the people who live in the community.  Since every person deserves not to be disturbed in his private affairs the state must do something in order to stop anti-social behavior.  Second is that when the state does nothing to prevent these acts from happening, the persons who are responsible for committing these acts go on committing more serious acts.  If they are not caught the persons who are responsible for committing these crimes eventually commit more serious crimes.  Thus, it is essential that the persons who engage in anti-social behavior be immediately stopped and punished.  They should be warned that there is nothing to be gained from engaging in anti-social behavior.  They must also learn that they simply cannot harass, annoy, intimidate, threaten or give distress to another person and not expect to be punished

Anti-Social Behavior Order
            In United Kingdom, any person who is disturbed and affected by a person who engages in anti-social behavior may seek the help of local authorities or police forces to have these acts stopped.  These local authorities and police officers may go to the court and apply for an ASBO to be issued against the person who causes trouble and engages in anti-social behavior.  In addition, the registered social landlords, and housing trusts and county councils may apply for an ASBO.  It must be stressed that the individual who is disturbed, harassed, distressed by the action of another cannot go to court directly.  It will be the local authorities or the police forces who are empowered to go to court and ask for an anti-social behavior order.

            Upon presentation of evidence, the court shall evaluate the pieces of evidence presented.  If the court is satisfied that a person has engaged in anti-social behavior, the court shall issue an anti-social behavior order against the person.  An anti-social behavior order is an order that forbids another individual from engaging in disturbing, threatening and intimidating actions.  The anti-social behavior order normally lasts for two (2) years but the court can issue an order for a longer period depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. (“Getting an Anti-social Behavior Order” 2) It is very similar to an injunction which has the power to forbid or prevent another from committing certain acts which are considered against the law. 

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            An anti-social behavior may be issued by the court against any person who is at least 10.  It cannot be directed against a child below 10 years of age.  It can be directed also against an adult whose age is above 40 or even 50.  In a majority of cases, however, the ASBO is sought against young individuals who engage in anti-social behavior.  In the past, its application was limited only to local government area but because of the public clamor to stop these activities, the ASBO is now applicable anywhere in England and in Wales.       

            It must however be stressed that anti-social behavior orders are not judgments of convictions.  It does not make the person subject of an anti-social behavior a criminal.  It is not considered a criminal record.  It also does not require serving a long period of incarceration.  This is because an anti-social behavior order is just a civil order designed to restore the peace in the society.  However, if a person who receives an anti-social behavior order issued by the court and he refuses to observe the anti-social behavior order, the refusal to obey the order is a criminal offense.  Any person who is found to have violated the anti-social behavior order may be punished by a fine or imprisonment of up to five (5) years of prison but only for those persons above the age of seventeen (17).  On the other hand, those children between the age of 12 and 17 may be subjected to detention and training order if they are found to have violated the ASBO.  While those aged 10 and 11can only be ordered to perform community service if they violated the ASBO. In addition, the police offices and local authorities have been empowered by law to arrest without a warrant of arrest any person found to have violated the ASBO.     

The advantage of an anti-social behavior order is that it protects the victims who maybe a neighbor, or even the entire community from the disturbing, threatening and intimidating behavior of another individual.  It stops the individual from further damaging the quality of life of the people in the community.  At the same time, an anti-social behavior order restores to the neighbors and to the rest of the community the peace of mind and the quality of life they enjoyed prior to engaging in anti-social behavior. 

ASBO as a Civil Order
            Earlier it was mentioned that the ASBO is a civil order.  This is because the application for securing an ASBO is not a criminal proceeding but a civil proceeding.  The difference in the nature of the proceedings has significant impact especially for a person against whom an ASBO is being sought. 

            In a criminal proceeding the person against whom an ASBO is sought is not entitled to the presumption of innocence that is present in criminal trials.  This means that the person against whom an ASBO is sought cannot say that the person who seeks an ASBO has weak evidence.  He cannot say that the case should be dismissed against him simply because the person applying for ASBO was not able to produce sufficient evidence against him.  This is because he also has to establish that he was not responsible for committing acts that are considered as anti-social behavior.  Thus, he still needs to present evidence to prove that he did not commit an action considered as an anti-social behavior.

            At this point, there may be a strong public clamor in favor of ASBO.  In view of the difficulty in stopping crimes and in controlling juvenile delinquents, the law has started to tinker with the legal system.  While the ASBO may be a legal innovation, I however have reservations against ASBO.  Every time an ASBO is issued against another who was not given the opportunity to confront the person applying for ASBO or a person who was not entitled to the constitutional presumption of innocence or a person who was not given an opportunity to present evidence on his behalf, the rights of the individual is being violated.  It is seriously believed that the ASBO is in the nature of criminal punishment for which a person against whom an ASBO is being sought should be entitled to all the rights of an accused.

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