|The Joint Committee on Human Rights examines every Bill presented to Parliament. With Government Bills its starting point is the statement made by the Minister under section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 in respect of its compliance with Convention rights as defined in that Act. However, we also have regard to the provisions of other international human rights instruments which bind the UK.
In this report we set out the conclusions of our consideration of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, taking account of the Government's response to points made in correspondence on the Bill. They are:
In relation to Part 1 of the Bill:
We consider that the power in Part 1 to issue Closure Notices and make Closure Orders in respect of "crack houses" would not give rise to any significant risk of incompatibility with Convention rights. (Paragraph 7).
We have reached the conclusion that there would be adequate measures available to prevent innocent people, including children, from having their rights under ICESCR Article 11 violated by a closure order made under Part 1 of the Bill in respect of a "crack house". (Paragraph 10).
In relation to Part 2 of the Bill:
We conclude that the procedural safeguards, including the need for a hearing in the county court, and the strict conditions to be fulfilled before orders may be made demoting a tenancy, should in principle be sufficient to protect rights under ECHR Article 8 and Article 1 of Protocol No 1 to the ECHR against violation by depriving troublesome public sector tenants of security of tenure under Part 2 of the Bill, and would meet the standards of due process required by ECHR Article 6.1. (Paragraph 14).
However, in our view, the term 'anti-social behaviour' without any definition to limit its meaning is an unacceptably vague term to use when authorizing an interference with a Convention right. We do not think that people would be able to establish what it means by reference to any predictable, objective standards. We have a similar concern about the term 'immoral behaviour', although, in the housing context, it has traditionally been given a relatively restricted meaning, relating mainly to using premises for drug-dealing, prostitution and similar activities. We consider that the absence of objectivity and predictability in the interpretation and application of these terms is likely to make it difficult to justify an interference with Convention rights under the provisions of Part 2, either generally or in the context of particular cases. We recommend that objective definitions of these terms should be included in the Bill to avoid the risk of incompatibility with Convention rights, particularly that under ECHR Article 8. (Paragraph 16).
In relation to Part 3 of the Bill:
We have come to the conclusion that the Government is entitled to take the view that the use of parenting contracts to address the problems of school truants and their families under clause 18 would be compatible with ECHR Article 8. (Paragraph 27).
We take the same view in relation to clauses 24 to 26, which would allow a youth offending team (the inter-disciplinary teams with assorted powers and responsibilities under section 39 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998), to which a child or young person has been referred, to enter into a parenting contract with the parent of the child or young person if any member of the team has reason to believe that the child or young person has engaged or is likely to engage in criminal conduct or anti-social behaviour. (Paragraph 28).
In relation to Part 4 of the Bill:
In respect of the power to authorise dispersal of groups of people in specified localities under clause 29, we consider that the potential intrusion on private life and liberty is so extensive, and the benefits in any case likely to be so speculative, that it might be difficult to establish (either in general or in specific cases) that the powers will or would be used only when it was proportionate to a pressing social need. A constable or community support officer who considers using these powers will be in a difficult position, without much guidance from the legislation as to when and how he or she should exercise them. (Paragraph 35).
In respect of the power to take a child or young person to his or her home if he or she is found in a specified location in certain circumstances between 9pm and 6am, we are not satisfied that the measures in clause 29(6) of the Bill are a proportionate response to a pressing social need, or that the safeguards provide assurance that the power would be used only where it is necessary and proportionate to do so to protect the child. We therefore conclude that there is a risk of incompatibility with ECHR Articles 5 (right to liberty), 8 (right to respect for private life) and 11 (freedom of association). (Paragraph 41).
In relation to Part 5 of the Bill:
We have come to the conclusion that the extension to the anti-social behaviour, supervision and curfew orders proposed in clauses 36 to 39 of the Bill would be justifiable under ECHR Article 8.2 as a proportionate response to a pressing social need. (Paragraph 45).
In relation to the proposal to allow courts to impose fostering requirements on some convicted children, we are not satisfied that the Government's plans for implementing its proposals in such a way as to justify fostering requirements, and to benefit and reintegrate the child and his or her parents in a family relationship, are sufficiently robust and reliable to ensure that foster care requirements would satisfy the requirements of ECHR Article 8. (Paragraph 53).
In relation to Part 7 of the Bill:
We accept that, in respect of Closure Orders on licensed premises to stop a nuisance caused by noise, under clause 45 of the Bill, the provisions strike an appropriate balance between the public interest and individual rights, as required by Article 1 of Protocol No 1 to the ECHR. (Paragraph 57).
We also accept that the provisions of clause 45 would be unlikely to give rise to an incompatibility with ECHR Article 6.1. (Paragraph 59).