Growing menace of anti-social crime
Anti-social behaviour may be a complex problem which is best tackled at multiple different levels, but that should not be an excuse to continue to tolerate an issue which is on the rise again and causing untold misery to many people throughout the country. The causes of anti-social behaviour, such as social disadvantage and lack of life opportunity, have long existed and are often paid lip service by politicians and policy makers. A thorough examination of those causes are again merited, and policies put in place to minimise the worst excesses of the problem over time.
However, on too many occasions in the past has such an approach been advocated for little, or nothing, to subsequently occur which would make better the lives of the many decent, law-abiding people at the receiving end of such abhorrent threats and intimidation. The evidence now is that the problem is threatening to spiral out of control. This must not be allowed to happen. People must know that the justice system is on their side when it comes to dealing with anti-social behaviour.
Anti-social behaviour is described as behaviour that is "destructive of or hostile to other members of society". Section 113 of The Criminal Justice Act 2006 is more specific in providing a legal definition for this jurisdiction: "A person behaves in an anti-social manner if the person causes or, in the circumstances, is likely to cause, to one or more persons who are not of the same household as the person - harassment, significant or persistent alarm, distress, fear or intimidation, or significant or persistent impairment of their use or enjoyment of their property."
From up-to-date statistics published today, and from other evidence recently published, notably by Irish Rail, it is clear that this legislation is no longer fit for purpose. There is merit in the argument that anti-social behaviour should be treated for what it is - criminal behaviour. As a consequence, anti-social behaviour should be responded to by the criminal justice system with more than a slap on the wrist as is mostly the case at the moment, but with full and proper consequences. This approach will necessarily involve strict rules of evidence rather than the balance of probabilities which applies at the moment. Furthermore, the current lack, or inadequate definition of anti-social behaviour, is unsatisfactory. The law needs to be strengthened and simplified.
Clearly, there is a pattern of alcohol and drug abuse behind most of the aggression which leads to the most distressing cases of anti-social behaviour. These issues relate to wider social problems which have been persistently overlooked or ignored by policymakers.
However, anti-social behaviour is a real and growing problem. It is causing widespread distress in the very fabric of our communities, particularly for the elderly. Furthermore, many people now attest to feeling anxious and unsafe in walking the streets of our towns and cities. There is also evidence that employees in our public transport systems, in particular, are encountering alarming behaviour which poses a threat to either life or limb. This state of affairs should no longer be tolerated. Indeed, it must be urgently tackled so as to allow people go about their daily lives without fear and in the total absence of threat or intimidation.