By Carl Davis
Last Sunday the Bureau of Investigative Journalism published the findings of its investigation into the use of Antisocial Behaviour Injunctions ( ASBIs).
Their shocking report describes how mentally ill and other vulnerable people are being sent to prison in England and Wales for breaking antisocial behaviour conditions they lack the capacity to follow. They often struggled through court hearings with no legal representation and face being sent to prison even if their actions are considered to have caused no real harm.
These Dickensian findings were published in the Sunday Telegraph but can be read in full here.
The investigation revealed that there has been little effort to monitor the effect of ASBIs following the introduction of the legislation in 2014. Scant official data collection makes it difficult to understand the true scale and efficacy of their use, or who they are being used against. Trawling through individual court records published on judiciary.uk from the beginning of 2019 to the end of June 2022, Bureau reporter Maeve McClenaghan established that :
At least every eight days someone faces prison for breaching an ASBI.
Women make up 27% of people jailed for antisocial behaviour – a proportion seven times higher than women in the wider prison population.
97% of judgments for injunction breaches since 2019 were brought by housing associations or councils.
At some hearings, judges openly expressed concern that the person’s actions had caused no real harm but, given the limited sentencing options for contempt of court, sent them to jail anyway.
Several lawyers told the Bureau that the majority of the people they had seen given injunctions did not have the mental capacity to face court, let alone adhere to the rules of the injunction.
From reactions on social media its clear that some people think that this news story distracts from, and trivialises, the experiences of the victims of anti social behaviour however that’s not the case. What the Bureau’s investigation shows is that the ASBI system is not only failing those accused of anti social behaviour and breaching the terms of their ASBI injunctions, but also fails the victims of ASB because it does not address the root causes of the behaviour.
The current system offers little or no positive and collaborative ways of changing people’s behaviour. The ASBI system has simply become a conveyor belt of rough justice that’ s routing mentally ill and vulnerable people into the prison system. The ASBI system is broken.
The social housing sector is also broken. Many social housing providers are cynically abusing a faulty ASBI system to fast track evictions. They paint themselves as the victims in order to punish tenants who openly question or criticize them, online or off.
The remote heavy handed management style adopted by so many housing associations, particularly in relation to people with mental health issues and other disabilities, just heaps more people onto the conveyor belt.
The Government is aware of the problems with the ASBI system in the civil courts. The Bureau reports that back in 2020 the Civil Justice Council (CJC) made an urgent request to the Home Office and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to collect data on these cases to enable full analysis of their use and efficacy. Its report contained a number of recommendations to fix the system including:
Widening the scope and provision of the NHS Liaison & Diversion service, to ensure a joined-up approach by local agencies to tackle the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour.
Extending the scope and provision of legal aid to ensure that no individual faces the prospect of being sent to jail without access to legal advice.
Adopting a new sentencing guideline to be used by the judiciary when hearing case.
For some reason, perhaps the pandemic, nothing has changed since 2020.
Crucially the CJC report focused on how cases are often not dealt with collaboratively by the public services concerned and that underlying and often causative issues such as mental health and substance abuse are therefore not addressed. There is no mechanism to provide recipients with help to deal with their issues, or support to change their behaviour. They are simply being ordered, often in absentia, to not breach conditions drafted by remote housing providers and other authorities.
It is a system in which institutions are able to shrug off their social responsibilities.
The Bureau found frequent instances of landlords failing to inform the court of all relevant information. Thus, they increase the likelihood of the accused quickly breaching their conditions so that they can get shot of them. In the social housing realm, the penalty for a breach will be both a prison sentence and eviction from their home.
A Case in Point
A G15 social landlord took out an ASB injunction against Paul, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. His offence was to openly criticising them on social media after they had threatened him with eviction.
The eviction notice followed a ‘reasonable adjustment’ request under the Equality Act 2010. Paul was ordered not to mention his landlord on social media but refused to comply. He was accused of breaching the terms of the injunction. Paul’s mental health team helped him get legal aid and a solicitor as he was considered to lack the capacity to fully understand proceedings.
Paul’s landlord dragged out proceedings before withdrawing from the case and having costs awarded against them. Paul’s experience is typical of the way that many social landlords are now resorting to ASBIs to silence criticism, opposition, or challenge online instead of addressing the issues residents are complaining about.
As the TBIJ found, statistics are rarely collected on this issue. There is no requirement for landlords to monitor or report the use of ASBIs are used by landlords.
Disability Visibility Charter
SHAC’s disability visibility charter was developed both to shine a light on this type of behaviour by housing associations and to help them change their behaviour. It flags up how social landlords are riding roughshod over complainants from tenants and residents with mental health issues, and/or on the neurodiversity spectrum.
The scheme was launched when SHAC received an overwhelming number of reports on these issues, with associations showing little effort at engaging with complainants, making adjustments for their disabilities, or collaborating with other bodies to resolve issues.
22 August 2022
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