In a rare occurrence, North Lincolnshire Council recently secured an injunction pursuant to the Anti-social behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 in respect of two rough sleepers. The powers under section 1 of the Act tend to be used exceptionally and many Courts are unfamiliar with them, writes Ben Williams.
As lockdown measures were relaxing in the centre of Scunthorpe, the local authority were becoming increasingly concerned about the behaviours of the two defendants who had set up an encampment in the town centre and had persisted in loitering and begging as well as burning waste and discarding drug paraphernalia there.
The two are partners and had previously been housed in temporary LA accommodation but this had been largely unsuccessful. Following advice from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, they had been placed in accommodation during the coronavirus lockdown and regrettably, this had proven unsuccessful and they had been forced out after concerns about their behaviours including drug use and prostitution. They were now refusing to engage with the Assertive Outreach Team within the Housing Advice and Support service which had been working with them for a number of years.
Consequently, they had taken to the streets where their presence and behaviours had become increasingly worrying. Lockdown had perhaps masked some of that impact although the lighting of a fire to burn waste had become a clear health and safety issue.
Ultimately what the local authority wanted was for the two to find suitable accommodation and take them off the streets. In short, the authority wanted to help. This meant that the consideration of an injunction was somewhat uneasy given that this is a draconian measure, not to mention an expensive one. The authority entered into this course of action in the knowledge that there was no prospect of cost recovery.
Pursuant to s.1 the court may only grant an Anti-social Behaviour Civil Injunction (ASBCI) if the respondent is over the age of 10 and only if it is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the respondent has engaged or threatened to engage in anti-social behaviour and it is just and convenient to grant the injunction for the purpose of preventing the respondent from engaging in anti-social behaviour. The authority had photographic evidence of the encampment, as well as statements from council officers, police and a local security guard to attest to the behaviours said to be anti-social.
Anti-social behaviour is defined in section 2 of the 2014 Act and will always include conduct that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person. It was such conduct that the Council relied on, including the following: Rough sleeping; Asking members of the public for money, food or other articles; Sitting on the floor, standing, loitering or laying inside and outside any shop, commercial takeaway, cinema, leisure and public owned premises; Remaining on any shop, commercial takeaway, cinema, leisure and public owned premises when asked to leave by the owner, tenant, employee or any other authorised person; Lighting fires anywhere within the area; disposing of needles and drug paraphernalia on public or private owned land within the area in an unsafe manner such as to endanger members of the public; and defecating and urinating on public or private land within the area.
When the matter fell for determination in the County court, applying the American Cyanamid principles, the Judge stated that he had no difficulty in determining that the behaviours complained about were anti-social. He was persuaded that the hurdle as to the serious issue to be tried was notoriously low in any event (applying Patten J’s words in BSW v Balltec EWHC822). He found that these were mostly unlawful behaviours and therefore the balance of convenience fell on the side of granting the injunction.
Despite the Court’s unfamiliarity with the legislative provisions, the Court recognised that the local authority had used the powers under the Act as a last resort and the Judge commended the pragmatic approach taken in what were difficult circumstances. The local authority simply wished for the defendants to engage with their officers in respect of finding suitable accommodation for them. The effect of the injunction is such that the defendants can be arrested should they return to their previous ways. It is hoped that the injunction compels them to engage with the authorities such that they remain in accommodation. Time will tell if this will be effective, however, through the authority’s reasonable approach here, these two vulnerable defendants are safe for the time being, and the public are free from the anti-social behaviour which had come to blight the town centre.