The Government is backing down over its plans to outlaw nuisance and annoyance by any person, in any place, following its big defeat in the House of Lords.
Its new Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs) – the proposed replacement for Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) – were widely criticised as being too vague, leading to fears that anyone from street preachers to buskers could be caught.
The new changes to the Bill will mean that a much higher threshold of “harassment, alarm or distress” will need to be met, before an injunction is issued.
The “nuisance or annoyance” test will now apply only to court injunctions in the context of social and private housing.
Earlier this month the House of Lords voted 306 to 178 in favour of an amendment tabled by former Chief Constable Lord Dear that replaced the “nuisance or annoyance” threshold with the test of causing “harassment, alarm or distress”.
Campaigners reasoned that the low IPNA thresholds was dangerous as almost anyone and any action was capable of being annoying, or causing a nuisance.
Simon Calvert, Reform Clause 1 Campaign Director, said: “This is a victory for common sense and civil liberties – a day to celebrate.
“The original wording risked landing many ordinary people in court, which even the Government could not deny”, he added.
In a major legal opinion the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, said that even a lone individual standing outside the entrance to a bank holding a sign objecting to its role in the financial crisis, could meet the criteria and threshold for an IPNA.
Gross state interference
He concluded that the legislation constituted “gross state interference” and that the wide remit could lead to many ordinary people facing court action.
In response to the Lords vote Home Office minister Norman Baker conceded: “I have listened to what people said. We will be tabling amendments next Monday to the antisocial behaviour bill which accept Lord Dear’s amendment.”
Baker added that the injunctions were never designed to prevent people exercising their rights to protest.
But he said that 128-vote defeat in the House of Lords indicated widespread concern.
Others in favour of the “harassment, alarm or distress” threshold included Labour Peer Lord Morris of Aberavon who said “nuisance and annoyance” was an “elastic term” that would catch “all sorts of people who should not be before the courts”.
The Reform Clause 1 campaign received widespread support from a cross party group of MPs and Peers as well as backing from 11 organisations.