- On 10th March 2017, The Derby Telegraph published an article titled “We want £100 fines for people who swear in Derby city centre”.
- It is claimed this is a move designed to tackle anti-social behaviour, street drinking, begging and rough-sleeping in and around the city centre.
- The proposal has been backed by multiple businesses in and around the city centre.
- Hardyal Dhindsa (Police and Crime Commissioner for Derby and Labour Party Representive) has vocally backed this proposal as has Ruth Skelton (Liberal Democrat Leader on the Derby City Council). This would be implemented under the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) legislation.
- Helen Wathall (Chairman of the St Peters Quarter Business Improvement District) claimed ‘Rangers’ could help patrol the proposed area and assist in implementing the fines. (The ‘Rangers’ patrol the area in Derby city centre, they do not have the power to arrest but they do act as the “eyes and ears” feeding information through to the police. She also claimed it was time that a stand was taken against such behaviour and fines would be a good way to achieve that.
- PSPO’s have also been issued across the country in a manner of ways, Rochdale recently passed into law, a PSPO to tackle swearing, begging and rough-sleeping to which Derby are looking to potentially follow suit, but also in Hackney in 2015 a PSPO took effect to prevent rough-sleeping in large parts of the borough, in large parts of Dover dogs must be kept on leads to avoid fines under a PSPO (some areas within Dover have been amended since the original ruling but for most the original ruling still applies), in Chelsea and Kensington a PSPO has been issued to make driving ‘loud’ cars, driving in convoy, leaving an engine running whilst stationary, revving a car engine, rapidly accelerating or playing ‘loud’ music all offences, a PSPO has been issued to prevent under 21 year-olds from entering a tower block in Oxford and Bassetlaw District Council passed a PSPO to prevent under 16 year-olds from gathering in groups of 3 or more.
- Enforcement of a PSPO can range from a £100 on the spot fine, to a £1000 fine in court if on the spot payment is refused.
By Hannibal Moriarty…
Where do I begin? I suppose if they desire to issue me with a fine for swearing, what instantly comes to mind, is fuck that! But I beg you forgive the profanity ladies and gentleman. The other thing that instantly comes to mind is the phrase ‘the path to hell is paved with good intentions’.
There are a plethora of issues I can see with this so I shall lay them out one by one. The first issue is why the figure of £100, it comes across as no more than a soundbite but seems rather ill thought out, yes of course you should treat people equally under the law regarding punishment, but a millionaire driving a ‘loud’ car in Kensington or Chelsea wont even know he has been fined with such a low amount but a person sleeping rough in Rochdale or Derby will almost certainly not have £100 to possibly pay the fine and thus be forced to go to court to pay £1000 that they have even less chance to being able to pay, unless they plan on then sending the homeless to jail, which does seem somewhat counter-intuitive. I do acknowledge that ‘loud’ vehicles and rough-sleepers can present potential problems, I am not ignorant to that but neither issue is effectively tackled by a £100 on the spot fine.
A second issue is that of the ‘Rangers’, I am sure it is not only me that cannot help but question what training, qualifications and above all else, authority a group of busy bodies paid for by a local business collective actually has? And what moral or authoritative high ground does the St Peters Quarter Business Improvement District actually have who appoint them? It is as if they fancy themselves a kind of self appointed thought police using private money to police a public space for anyone acting in a way they don’t approve of..
I for one would not under any circumstances hand over £100 to someone demanding it of me without them having the legal authority and without them being able to provide identification towards that effect. Furthermore these ‘Rangers’ present an issue of bias and discrimination, allow me to explain. Will these professional busy bodies be qualified and fluent in every possible language spoken within the designated area? Of course they will not as they cannot be. So if not and they only punish those swearing in English, for example if they aren’t fluent in other languages, then that is discrimination by definition of treating individuals different on the basis of arbitrary characteristics. And I can certainly attest to the fact Derby city centre is a place full of cultural diversity. But as for bias, not everyone regards the same words and phrases as ‘swearing’, for example many Christians regards the phrase ‘oh my God’ to be swearing, as an atheist I do not and the majority of people I know would not as it is a largely common spoken phrase, so who decides what is swearing and by what grounds is that decided? It all sounds largely subjective.
As for Labour Party Member and Police and Crime Commissioner for Derby, Hardyal Dhindsa, only last month he made in into the Derby Telegraph after Phil Ingall (the Conservative Councillor for Chellaston) claimed that Hardyal Dhindsa used inappropriate foul language to verbally abuse him on two occasions after a Derby City Council meeting during which Phil Ingall had highlighted a concern raised by the Derby Telegraph that the office of Hardyal Dhindsa had given £25,000 of tax payer funding to an organisation who do no work in Derby but are run by two other Labour Party candidates. At this point I will add that regardless of the monetary issue the verbal abuse claim is just that, a claim but if this claim is proven correct then it does highlight a severe case of hypocrisy on the part of Hardyal Dhindsa.
The aforementioned issues sound serious enough in my opinion, however as you may remember I said ‘the path to hell is paved with good intentions’ which leads me on to the next point and the most serious of all I intend to make. In an alleged effort to tackle anti-social behaviour the law they wish to use to impose these new standards of sanctionable behaviour, the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), forms a part of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act of 2014. This is one of most vague and awfully written pieces of legislation I have come across to date (just as with all sources a link to this will be at the bottom of this article). But I shall try to sum it up as best and accurately as I can:
The power to make orders depends upon 2 criteria; 1 – Activities carried out within the area in question have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality or it is likely they will have such an effect. 2 – It is likely to be of a persistent nature, likely to make certain activities unreasonable or justifies the restrictions imposed by the notice.
The purpose and design of a Public Spaces Protection Order is to; prohibit things being done in a restricted area, require specific things to be done within a specific area or does both of those things.
Prohibition or requirement may be framed; to apply to all persons, or only to persons in specified categories, or to all those outside of specified categories, to apply in all circumstances or only in certain circumstances or in all circumstances except those specified.
A Public Spaces Protection Order may not have an effect of more than 3 years unless that period is extended before the identified end date, due to a potential increase in occurrences or severity of the issue after the identified time. An extension may be up to a period of an additional 3 years, and may be extended more than once.
Once a Public Spaces Protection Order is in place the local authority that made it may increase or reduce the size of the restricted area and alter, remove or add a prohibition.
There are several issues with this vague, awful and utterly terrifying piece of legislation. The first issue is, how do they define something as having a detrimental effect on ‘quality of life’? It is a subjective term meaning different things to different people but it is never defined in the document. The next issue is that just because a behaviour is of a persistent nature, that behaviour is not necessarily negative, they use more subjective language referring to ‘unreasonable’ behaviour and then claim an order can be justified simply by its own existence. In other words if they want it to be law, law it shall be.
My major concern, is the ability under this legislation for a local authority to not only prohibit behaviour, but to also require it. The potential implications of this are endless, from banning any kind of freedom of speech or expression in entirety to requiring only certain types of speech or certain styles of clothing or certain groups of people be allowed into these areas. As a political tool this could be devastating and as for the individual rights of UK citizens, this would see them demolished.
Another serious issue is that the legislation implicitly states it can be used to discriminate towards or against any specified group of individuals based on entirely arbitrary characteristics. And this could be done in any manner they choose, they could carve the UK up further by class or by ethnic origin, by skin colour or gender, by age or any other trait the government desire to segregate and demonise.
Further issues are presented in that an Order can, in effect be endless. As extensions must be approved before the end date no alternatives can even be trialed over time and it is unlikely an office would allow an order to elapse in case they cannot get it passed again in the future.
A final issue on this is that once an Order is passed, the ‘specified’ area it covers, can be changed without application and the content of the order can also be changed and made more intrusive without application. Thus it would make sense for a local authority to first introduce a bill that sounds nice and most people can get behind, such as tackling littering or swearing or ‘loud’ vehicles within certain limited areas. And once a bill is passed, over time, increase both the size of the included area and the severity and range of prohibitions under the PSPO. Essentially making each local authority an Orwellian style INGSOC. Now I know that may come across alarmist and I am not saying it will go that far. But as they keep taking an inch and we do not complain, eventually they will have taken a mile and we will have no way back.
Particularly regarding the argument for freedom of speech and expression a potential defense is that in the UK we fall under the Human Rights Act of 1998, Article 10, which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers”. It also goes on to state the only real restrictions on freedom of speech and expression can be incitement or threats of abuse or violence, slanderous remarks, breaching confidentiality, breaching national security and/or in the interest of maintaining impartiality and authority of the judiciary. Given this legislation, it should surely override at least any attempted enforcement regarding speech of a PSPO.
So as I stated ‘the path to hell is paved with good intentions’. A potentially noble or lovely idea to limit anti-social behaviour and present the general public with a nicer space, abused and corrupted by authoritarian ideologues chomping at the bit to use a vaguely worded law to impose their own sense of righteousness on those whose taxes and/or spending power pay their salaries. I’m sure we would all rather our taxes go into an efficient running of our local councils and the services they oversee, education or healthcare or into tackling real issues such as that the police are under-staffed, but instead we have to keep an eye out for the encroachment upon our rights as they come under attack.
Another issue is that one would think it would be common sense that Derby City Council would have more important issues that need addressing rather than this waste of tax payer funded time. Councils are being pushed to breaking point by government funding cuts. Derby City Council themselves were forced to unveil plans to cut £45 million from its budget over 3 years from April 2016, whilst simultaneously raising council tax by 4 percent year on year in that same period, all of which has a impact on Derby’s local housing options, public sector job cuts, strains on child and adult care social services, homelessness prevention and ever decreasing standards of education, as well as other issues.
A further issue is one that impacts Derby both economically and culturally. That issue is nightlife, Derby has a large student population as well as busy night time culture for it’s variety of bars and clubs. In the Derby Telegraph article Ruth Skelton (the Liberal Democrat Leader on the Derby City Council) stated “If you start slapping fines on people on Friday and Saturday night then I think that’s unrealistic”. Well why is it Ruth? If a behaviour is unacceptable how does waiting until night-time on two specified days a week make the exact same behaviour in the exact same place, that this Order is designed to specifically combat, somehow acceptable. That is an entirely inconsistent view. So is the message she honestly expects people to learn that swearing is bad unless it is a Friday or Saturday night and you are drunk? Is she joking or mentally deranged?
Whilst some local businesses think this strategy may be a good idea and it will help tackle street drinking, anti-social behaviour, begging and rough-sleeping. Their thought processes seem to be rather counter-intuitive. It is clear to everyone with the ability to think more than 2 moves ahead that this ideology is highly subjective in application and is rife for bias and abuse. Would they penalise a mother in a moment of frustration who lets out a word deemed unacceptable, but turn a blind eye to a large group of travelling football fans for fear of retaliation? I am not claiming in either scenario anyone should be punished for swearing but the point is that the notion shows a distinct lack of clarity and coherence.
Also whilst they are arguing that this may clear up the image and attract people to the area, it may also have the exact opposing effect on both the area and profitability of the businesses. Derby’s large student population, could easily dwindle if they fear a slip of the tongue in the daytime or a harmless outburst at night could cost them so dearly. But it is not just students, how many locals would decide to stay within their surrounding local towns and villages instead of travelling into the city? Using their money to counter a political movement designed to demonise the average working class individual by spending it elsewhere. It is clear that although political correctness and both imposed and self censorship still play large parts in daily public life, there is also a clear and growing number of people becoming sick and tired of those ideas and that would seek to make their voices heard in one way or another.
As always thank you for reading and don’t forget, The Devil Is In The Details…
Original Derby Telegraph Article
Phil Ingall/Hardyal Dhindsa Accusation
PSPO – Dogs in Dover
PSPO – Rough Sleeping In Hackney
PSPO – ‘Loud’ Cars Chelsea and Kensington
PSPO – No Under 21’s In Oxford Tower Block
PSPO – Under 16’s In Bassetlaw
Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 – Public Spaces Protection Orders
Human Rights Act 1998, Article 10
Derby Telegraph – Council Cuts
Derby Dwindling Education Standards