UK Family Law Reform

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'Name and shame' plan for children who breach Asbos

By Philip Johnston

A sharp increase in the number of anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) issued by the courts is to be reinforced by a greater use of "naming and shaming" powers against young hooligans, the Government said yesterday.

New Home Office figures showed that 786 Asbos were handed down in the final quarter of last year - double the number in the same period 12 months earlier.

More than 4,600 have been issued since the power was introduced in April 1999, nearly half against children aged between 10 and 17.

The figures came amid renewed concern over loutish behaviour which has recently been linked to several deaths.

After a slow start for the Asbo initiative, police, local authorities and the courts have recently shown more enthusiasm for the orders, though the total remains well below a Government target of 5,000 a year. The greatest use of Asbos is in big urban centres. Elsewhere the take-up is more patchy.

Asbos are civil orders and do not require any evidence of criminal activity, though a court must be satisfied to a criminal burden of proof - beyond reasonable doubt - before imposing one. Recipients can be named.

A breach of an Asbo is punishable by a maximum prison term of five years. In four in 10 cases, the terms of an Asbo have been breached.

Under legal changes to take effect this week, the names of juveniles who have breached the orders will be made public unless the court decides otherwise. Witnesses will be allowed to give evidence from behind screens, by video link or through intermediaries.

Critics regard Asbos as blunt instruments that criminalise behaviour which would not normally merit a criminal prosecution and do not tackle the roots of bad behaviour.

The Government has introduced individual support orders, that can be attached to an Asbo made against young people aged between 10 and 17, which are designed to tackle the underlying causes of their anti-social behaviour.

But these have been issued in just one per cent of cases and the Home Office said it was increasing the funding by £500,000 in a bid to improve the uptake.

Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister, said anti-social behaviour was a "menace" that had to be dealt with promptly and firmly.

However, Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, the human rights and civil liberties group, said: "We remain concerned that the innocent and vulnerable are being caught up alongside the guilty. Naming and shaming can lead to vigilantism."

David Davies, the shadow home secretary, said the Government had failed to deal effectively with the problems of anti-social behaviour.

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Too often an Asbo is a badge of honour, not a solution."

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