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Orders ‘criminalise’ dog owners

William Hatchett09/08/2017 - 15:20

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dog walking is being targeted by the orders
dog walking is being targeted by the orders

Powers held by local authorities to restrict antisocial behaviour are being widely used to restrict activities including drinking, dog walking and begging and sleeping in the open, according to a critical report from libertarian campaigners, the Manifesto Club.

The group used freedom of information requests to discover that 189 Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) were issued in 107 councils between March 2016 and June 2017, compared to 130 the previous year. Almost half of English and Welsh councils have used the powers since 2014.

PSPOs were introduced by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. They allow councils to ban any activity they judge to have a ‘detrimental effect on the quality of life’.

Failure to comply with an order can result in an £80 fixed penalty, rising to £100 if not paid within 14 days, or a fine. Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBOs) can be issued if PSPOs are breached or ignored.

The Manifesto Club report identifies alcohol (44), dog walking (30), begging (19) and loitering (18) as the top four subjects for orders issued. Dog-related orders are alleged by the report to ‘criminalise law-abiding dog owners, rather than targeting the actual nuisance behaviour’. Orders covered dog walking or requirements that dogs remain on leads. Five councils imposed a requirement for dog owners to have a means to pick up dog mess.

Also opposing the use of PSPOs for dog issues, Mark Elliott, director of public protection for Pembrokeshire Council, told EHN Extra: ‘There are half a million dogs in Wales and the problems associated with them are increasing all the time, such as dog fouling, dangerous dogs and illegal breeding. But I don’t think that answer is in treating all dog owners the same way, through PSPOS, which we have not adopted here. We need to concentrate on educating the irresponsible owners.’

Mr Elliott is calling for an annual £15 registration fee for dog owners, linked to microchipping, and a single national database of animals and owners. The £7.5m raised would be re-distributed to dog charities and to the 22 Welsh councils, ring-fenced for dog-related services, such as more wardens and education programmes.

He said: ‘I know from talking to dog owners that most of them would be totally in favour of this, if the money was used for the benefit of dogs.’ He said that council funding from dog registration had been proposed to the Welsh government by the RSPCA in 2016 but that, so far, Welsh politicians had been silent on the issue.

However, he added: ‘There is now an awareness that funding is tight and that there isn’t going to be more money, also that the Blue Flag status of Welsh beaches may be threatened by irresponsible dog owners. So I think that the mood on dog registration may be softening.’

Josie Appleton, the report’s author, argues that PSPOS undermine legal rights and democratic accountability and everyday freedoms in public spaces.

She said: ‘These powers take the criminal law into the domain of taste or annoyance, rather than significant public nuisance or harm. They allow councils to create absurdly catch-all crimes, such as standing in a group, which means that council officials and police officers have the power to fine or disperse pretty much anyone.’

The Manifesto Club argues that the term ‘detrimental effect on the quality of life’ is too vague and should be replaced by ‘behaviour that causes public nuisance or harm’. It also claims that PSPOs are undemocratic ‘because they can be enacted by single council officers, without democratic scrutiny’ and is calling for significant PSPOs to be debated by full council.

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