Councils use civil courts to wage war against estate crime

LOCAL authorities are increasingly looking to the civil courts to combat crime on their estates.

Two councils have recently broken new legal ground by extending the scope of civil injunctions in order to keep trouble-makers at bay.

Hackney has secured a county court injunction preventing an individual entering properties on an estate even though he does not face a specific criminal charge.

And lawyers at Coventry have won a court order banning two individuals from going within a one-mile radius of their former home.

Local authority housing lawyer Graham French, of London-based Alan Edwards & Co, says he has had inquiries from councils across the country.

"It's very much a growing trend. Use of the civil law to complement the criminal law isn't particularly new in itself. Private practice firms have for a long time sought injunctions in domestic violence cases. But this is a new departure for local authorities," he says.

Councils can call upon Section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972 which gives them the power to seek injunctions "to restrain criminal acts".

Nottingham recently considered using the procedure but solicitor Valerie Mattinson says it proved inappropriate because private proceedings were pending and the nuisance problem was not widespread.

Dudley Lewis, city clerk at Bristol, says the council has successfully used the Section 222s several times in the last year to prevent individuals from causing a nuisance.

But much of the groundwork was laid by Hackney. The London borough successfully applied for injunctions against people on its Kingsmead Estate in 1993 and last month secured a ruling against another individual who does not face a specific criminal charge.

French, who acts for Hackney, says: "It is an important extension of the council's pioneering work in preventing crime in the area."

Coventry, which took advice from Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, claimed a further legal first when a judge banned an individual from entering a one-mile exclusion area.

The ruling was made after the court heard evidence of weeks of undercover surveillance by the council and police.