An Internet trolling expert has said that Home Office plans to reform Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) has his support.
In a response to the ‘Putting Victims First‘ white paper, Jonathan Bishop says that the UK Government’s plans to allow for ASBOs to be brought in the civil courts without criminal penalty will offer more opportunity for members of the public to deal with the effect of Internet trolling if it extends beyond statutory agencies.
The UK Government is proposing a ‘Community Trigger’, which carrying no criminal sanction and can be brought in the civil courts if three citizens call for it to happen. Current plans are to simplify the system of multiple orders to single flexible ones that can be used by the police and local authorities.
Bishop directs the Centre for Research into Online Communities and E-Learning Systems, which made a response calling for a similar mechanism to the ‘Community Trigger,’ and says he welcomes the move. “I have been a strong supporter of ASBOs as a means to deter anti-social behavior, but it has only been accessible to local authorities and the police who may abuse it for their own ends,” he said. “I would like to think that the Government’s plans will bring anti-social behaviour legislation in line with the Family Law Act 1996 and the Children Act 1989, on the same basis as the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, where orders can be brought in the civil courts and are thus accessible to all members of the public.
“In many cases the orders under these pieces of legislation can carry criminal obligations if breached – in the same way ASBOs do.”
Not all are convinced however. South Wales Crime Commissioner Alun Michael, who introduced ASBOs when a Labour Home Office Minister said the old system should be hung onto. “Why on earth get rid of a system that is tried tested and effective through the magistrates court in favour of a system through the county court involving more bureaucracy, more cost, and less protection for local people,” he said.
Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram, who has called for tougher action on Internet trolling also condemns the plans. “Cameron is attempting to turn the clock back with plans to scrap the ASBO and replace it with a weaker power which carries no criminal sanction for a breach,” he said. “The Government’s community trigger, which demands a response if a person has complained three times just isn’t good enough. People have the right to expect action right away and help to tackle an issue which is a huge worry.”
But Bishop says that Rotheram has it wrong. “Steve Rotheram is calling for more criminal measures in relation to Internet trolling, but police are not even using the existing laws in relation to trolling,” he said. “The current proposals would build on New Labour’s ith Anti-Social Behaviour Legislation,” he said. “With a little refinement to bring it in line with the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to create a civil remedy, the three-complaint trigger will offer a better means to avoid vexatious complaints, as I called for in Crocels’s response to the Government’s Open Public Services White Paper.”