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HIGH COURT CHALLENGE TO GOVERNMENT ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR POLICY

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Human rights group Liberty is acting for 'W', a 15 year-old from Richmond (protected by an anonymity order), in a t...
Human rights group Liberty is acting for 'W', a 15 year-old from Richmond (protected by an anonymity order), in a test-case challenge to the 'anti-yob' laws - child curfew zones. In these zones, any unaccompanied under-16 year old is liable to arrest and forced escort home after 9pm, whether or not they are suspected of bad behaviour.

The case is to be heard in the high court today and tomorrow. It is based on the notion that in a democracy, only those suspected of wrongdoing should be subject to sanctions such as curfews and police arrest. Bad behaviour should be outlawed not all young people.

James Welch, legal director of Liberty said: 'The prime minister has prioritised creating a culture of respect in Britain. He should remember that respect is a two-way street. These powers fail to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. No-one objects to reasonable sanctions for bad behaviour. He should attack that behaviour and not all children.'

Alex Gask, Liberty's legal officer (acting for 'W') added: 'My client is a model student who has never been in trouble with the police. He rightly objects to laws that would remove his right to walk down the street at 9pm on a summer's evening. There is a real danger of sweeping so-called 'anti-yob powers' demonising an entire generation of mostly decent kids'.

'W' made the statement: 'Of course I have no problem with being stopped by the police if I've done something wrong. But they shouldn't be allowed to treat me like a criminal just because I'm under 16.'

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Notes

The case is known as R (on the application of W) V the commissioner of police for the metropolis and Richmond upon Thames LBC.

W has never been in trouble with the police. He is a bright, conscientious and church-going young man who is taking some of his GCSE's early this summer. His interests are sport and music.

In the latter part of last year, W was affected by a 'designation' under section 30 (6) of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003. Under this power, a senior police officer designates an area for a curfew and this is endorsed by the local authority. Once such an order is in place, the police have the power to remove any unaccompanied person reasonably believed to be under 16 if they are in the area after 9pm. There are hundreds of these designations in place all over the country. Crucially, the power to remove doesn't require any bad behaviour on the part of the young person.

The curfew is likely to be restored this summer. It is ridiculous effectively to bar 15-year-olds from walking home from football or the cinema after 9pm on a clear summer night.

This case is a direct challenge to the prime minister's approach to young people and anti-social behaviour. It is quite right to clamp down on bad behaviour but not to treat all young people (with or without hoodies) as criminals.

Because of the young man's wish for anonymity he will not be available for interview.

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