Curfew for under 16s set up in English town
A CIVIL rights group said today that a curfew banning all unaccompanied young people from a town centre at night may be unlawful and should be challenged in court.
Lawyers at campaign group Liberty described the blanket ban on under-16s entering the centre of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, as "just plain wrong" and urged families who want to fight it on human rights and discrimination grounds to contact them.
The curfew, which began yesterday and will run between 9pm and 6am for six months, was set up by South Yorkshire Police and Barnsley Metropolitan Council in a bid to curb bad behaviour.
Anyone who is under 16 and not with an adult will be breaching the order and removed from the town centre by police regardless of whether they have done anything wrong.
Emma Norton, a lawyer at Liberty, said: "A blanket ban on 15-year-olds walking around on summer nights is discriminatory, counter-productive and just plain wrong.
"The police should target offenders of whatever age, not show disrespect and distrust of a whole generation.
"This policy is challengeable in the courts and we urge any family affected by it to contact Liberty after Easter."
Police will also be able to use the powers to disperse groups of two or more people from anti-social behaviour blackspots and target rowdy night-time revellers or football fans.
Inspector Julie Mitchell, of South Yorkshire Police, said: "Many interventions have been put in place by the police and partners and, although some measures have had some success, nuisance behaviour still persists on an almost daily basis.
"The common theme that appears to cause the most concern is rowdy, inconsiderate and abusive behaviour. This behaviour is often from people in large groups and has led to members of the public and business community reporting the feeling of being harassed and intimidated.
"The order is not intended to be applied without discretion; we want to encourage residents and visitors to come into the town centre for retail and leisure."
The force has previously used under-16 curfews in residential areas of Barnsley in a bid to stop groups of youths "loitering".
Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, also branded the town centre curfew "totally wrong" and said it will severely undermine respect for the law.
He said: "Dispersal orders are a blunt, crude tool that at best moves the problem to somewhere nearby.
"It is a sign that the police have lost control of the streets and yet does nothing to restore either the community spirit or respect for the law that has been lost.
"It's simple - if people break the law, harass people and cause distress, then the police should arrest them.
"The idea that simply by being under 16 and in town is grounds for the police to take you home seems a waste of time and resources.
"To treat every group of young people as criminals is totally wrong and a blatant infringement on people's rights to move around Barnsley."
In a similar curfew last year, unaccompanied under-16s were banned from the town centre in Bangor, Gwynedd, between 9pm and 6am, prompting campaigners to brand it a "draconian" move more suited to North Korea than North Wales.
The Children's Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, also strongly criticised the order and warned that it would "criminalise" all children and young people.
Mr Towler called it "a heavy-handed and ineffective way of combating anti-social behaviour".
Liberty, which is also known as the National Council for Civil Liberties, was set up in 1934, and describes itself as "a cross- party, non-party membership organisation at the heart of the movement for fundamental rights and freedoms in the UK".