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4th December 2013

Should students be responsible for their friends’ anti-social behaviour?

The UK government is making the controversial decision to criminalise behaviour that is considered as simply a “nuisance or annoyance” to the dismay of many.


Currently being reviewed in the House of Lords, the new and improved version of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill looks set to become law by Christmas 2013. The UK government is making the controversial decision to criminalise behaviour that is considered as simply a “nuisance or annoyance” to the dismay of many.

As a result of a Manchester City Council suggestion, one of the more controversial amendments to the proposal is the possible measure to punish tenants holding a party whereby their party guests indulge in anti-social behaviour afterwards. The offence would extend to post-party antics that do not involve the tenant or the house itself.  Irfaan Bhankarally, current third-year student in Actuarial Science and Maths agrees to this idea in principle, “I would not want to be held responsible if anyone coming from a party at my place does not behave according to norms even after leaving, but if I induced this behaviour in any way, by for example providing alcohol, I have to hold my hand up and be held accountable to a certain extent.”

Silviana Patrascu, a postgraduate student in Translation and Interpreting Studies vehemently disagrees, “It does sound a bit extreme. Warnings and fines are probably the best way to implement punishment on such occasions. Getting kicked out of your house for something you have not done?  No way that’s fair!”

However, the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill, goes even further in antagonising young people. It offers a pledge to obliterate anti-social behaviour from the streets but in more ways than one. The scope of actions included as anti-social has unequivocally been widened and this has not gone unnoticed by campaigners who are against the bill. “We are concerned that children and teenagers will get into trouble with the law just for being annoying, and that it will penalise them from doing things that all children do as part of growing up – playing in the street, kicking a ball around in a public space or hanging around with their friends,” responded the chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, Dr Hilary Emery, when asked about the proposal.

The thought of children as young as 10 being liable to such public disturbance reprimands raises many questions about the future use of ASBO style responses under the new bill. Rather than creating a safer environment for the community, it can have an adverse effect and increase the communication barriers between the police and youngsters. Cleveland’s chief constable Jacqui Cheer even points out the fact that some of the public nuisance created these days might be a result of previous legislation to close down places where teenagers could gather, “What is anti-social to one person is just what I did and what many young people do. We’ve closed down a lot of places that people are allowed to go to. We’ve fenced off school grounds, but where do people collect? I’m not saying that we will tolerate behaviour that is harassing, that is making people feel fearful… that is our job. But we need to be careful where the line is.”

The generation gap between the current Parliament and the young population is becoming glaringly obvious with this legislation and others like it. It does make sense to increase protection for the community, but that would mostly be useful for actual crime rather than being overly dramatic about public disturbance and ephemeral anti-social behaviour. As Conservative MP James Wharton suggests “I would be concerned at anything that might send out a message to young people to commit anti-social behaviour. I speak to people in my constituency who experience this kind of behaviour and it can have a significant impact on communities. I am confident that the new legislation will give the police the discretion they need and I will be voting for it.” As Mr Wharton is one of the youngest MPs in parliament, this shows just how far off the mark they might be in assessing the current situation. It would rather make sense to review each significant case over and above a more flexible baseline legislation to protect against anti-social behaviour.

Mistakes happen, even more so when growing up. Criminalising such actions can only go as far as providing immediate peace and quiet.

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