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Civil liberties concerns may scupper Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

 

Police Community Support Officers may not get the power to issue fixed penalty notices to cyclists without pedal reflectors after the House of Lords last night voted to amend the Government’s Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

The bill would extend to PCSOs the current power of police officers to stop cyclists who don’t have reflectors on their bikes.

However, that’s an almost incidental provision of a bill that is coming under flak for criminalising making a nuisance of yourself.

Even the Conservative Home website has criticised the bill, which seeks to replace ASBOs with the much broader IPNAs (Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance), calling it “dangerous and poorly worded”.

Civil libertarians fear that the provision could be used against many kinds of political speech and protest. The political abuse of the extension of powers to PCSOs also worries the CTC.

The CTC’s Campaigns and Policy Director Roger Geffen yesterday told road.cc: “The risk is that this power simply gets used when a local police force decides to have a politically-motivated crack-down on cyclists: stop them, fine them for anything you spot that they are doing wrong, then tell the local media that you’re clamping down on unsafe cyclist behaviour.

“That risk isn’t limited to the issue of reflectors – it relates to all the powers that this Bill is now proposing to give to PCSOs.”

But while Lord Berkeley was planning yesterday to table an amendment specifically addressing the powers of PCSOs over reflectors, it was an amendment proposed by crossbencher Lord Dear that puts the bill’s future into question.

Lord Dear said the new power “risks being used for those who seek to protest peacefully, noisy children in the street, street preachers, canvassers, carol singers, trick-or-treaters, church bell ringers, clay pigeon shooters, nudists. This is a crowded island that we live in and we must exercise a degree surely of tolerance and forbearance.”

Peers backed Lord Dear’s amendment to replace the phrase "nuisance and annoyance" in the legislation with "harassment, alarm or distress". That’s the behaviour that can trigger an ASBO, making the difference between an ASBO and an IPNA small enough the Government may decide not to take the bill any further.

Further discussion of the bill has been scheduled for next Tuesday, when it's believed the specific issue of PCSO powers and reflectors will be debated.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.