New Labour’s ‘child-catcher’ law unveiled

The antisocial behaviour bill at the heart of the Government’s strategy on low-level crime, which is to be unveiled today (14 October), will amount to “nothing more than a nationwide curfew on young people under 16 years”, claims a leading barrister at Matrix Chambers.

Speaking this morning, Anthony Jennings QC argued that one clause in the bill, which he has dubbed “New Labour’s child-catcher law”, could be in breach of at least four articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. He has written a legal opinion commissioned by 13 charities, including the Children’s Society and Barnardo’s.

The proposals would give the police powers to disperse groups of two or more people, return a child under the age of 16 to their home in certain circumstances, and remove reporting restrictions for children who are subject to antisocial behaviour orders. In the most controversial section (Clause 30), if a police officer finds youths under the age of 16 years without an adult after 9pm, the officer can take them back home – even if they have not done anything wrong.

According to Jennings, this section “contains some breathtaking provisions” and breaches several parts of the Human Rights Act: Articles 5 (right to liberty and security), 8 (private and family life), 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (freedom of assembly).

“This is nothing short of a nationwide curfew on young people under 16 years,” he argued. “As regards enforcement, it would seem unlikely that it’s used against the Hampstead teenager walking home from a violin lesson at 9.05pm. What of the 15-year-old attending the newsagents at 5.55am to start his paper round?… What will happen to the school or club disco?”