Time useless Asbos were scrapped in Northern Ireland: DUP Assemblyman Lord Morrow
Orders miserable failure, says MLA
Fewer than one anti-social behaviour order a month was handed out by the authorities in Northern Ireland last year, new figures have revealed.
The orders – known as Asbos – should now be scrapped because they are ineffective, hardly ever used and are seen as little more than a badge of honour for offenders, according to one MLA.
Asbos were introduced by Labour in the late 1990s as a means of tackling minor incidents which would not normally warrant criminal prosecution.
However, their effectiveness has often been questioned in Northern Ireland, where Asbos have rarely been used.
New figures show that applications for orders have been falling for years.
In 2009 just 29 were handed out, but that dropped to 18 in 2011, and just 11 were issued last year.
DUP Assemblyman Lord Morrow, who obtained the figures, noted that many orders were subsequently breached, saying it proved Asbos were of little use and had "failed miserably".
"I have always been very sceptical of the real point of Asbos as for too many offenders they are nothing but a badge of honour," he said.
"They are nothing more than a gentle request to halt anti-social activity or, reluctantly, an offender will have to be charged and prosecuted.
"I can only assume police have seen the disastrous waste of money these orders are and are planning on dispensing with them entirely.
"It is difficult to try to understand why Asbos were ever thought of as some ground-breaking method of addressing disorder in the community.
"They are simply a paper exercise and act as no deterrent."
According to figures released by Justice Minister David Ford, 96 Asbos were issued to 90 offenders in the last five years.
Mr Ford confirmed 41 were breached, including 26 which were breached more than once.
"The overall Northern Ireland statistics show the handing out of Asbos is consistently decreasing year-on-year since 2009 and of those which were issued, a large proportion were breached – many more than once," added Lord Morrow.
"The number of instances of anti-social behaviour remain high, so I feel it is safe to assume Asbos as an initiative have failed miserably."
A geographic breakdown shows the Belfast court division issued the highest number of orders over the last five years, followed by the Antrim division.
Lord Morrow added: "My own constituency in Fermanagh/South Tyrone only ever saw two Asbos issued, and that was in 2012. At that, one of these was breached on more than one occasion. In the last five years the Londonderry court division issued one Asbo in 2013 – and it was breached."
In 2012, a report by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland said police believed Asbos were a useful tool, describing them as the final stage in a graduated response, where other methods had failed.
Asbos were the flagship innovation of Tony Blair's "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" approach to law and order after Labour took power in 1997. They were introduced in the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act as a way of tackling low-level anti-social behaviour on inner city estates that the police had not bothered with. However, Asbos did not have the same impact in Northern Ireland, and just 11 were handed out in 2013.