Civil injunctions are aimed at preventing individuals from engaging in ASB, ideally nipping the activity in the bud, before it escalates and causes more nuisance or harm. Civil injunctions can be for housing and non-housing related ASB and are tested on the balance of probabilities.
While all injunctions issued by the county or high court will have prohibitions attached, some may also include positive requirements aimed at addressing the underlying causes of the individual’s anti-social behaviour. And while breach of the injunction is not a criminal offence, it can carry an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison for an adult. Applicants for civil injunctions can include local councils and can now be used for under 18s. The Civil injunction is likely to be the most popular tool for housing organisations.
Nuisance neighbours can blight communities and cause immense harm to those affected. Possession proceedings when issued can be long and protracted and perpetrators will often use delaying tactics that can result in proceedings taking months and even years to be resolved. As a result, witnesses and victims can become disheartened and cases have been known to collapse as those affected do not have the emotional capacity to continue with the process.
Southwark has recently had a number of cases where the harm being caused to individuals, and in some cases entire communities, was very serious. Although substantive proceedings to evict had been commenced, victims were still subject to daily acts of harassment.
Examples include a case of a council tenant living in a ground floor converted property who was responsible for the most serious anti-social behaviour. She lived alone and subjected her neighbours and to excessive noise and verbal abuse. She had on occasion threatened physical violence. Efforts to engage with her had been rebuffed and her behaviour and her disregard for her neighbours was shocking. Possession proceeding were issued but were defended and were taking some time to be listed. The tenant continued to act in an anti-social manner.
In another case an elderly couple were harassed by a family who lived below them. This harassment consisted of loud noise disturbance using implements to bang on the walls, radiators and ceilings. This would happen until the early hours of the morning. Verbal threats had been made and a weapon shown. However police had had difficulty in witnessing the incidents and, as such, no criminal action had been possible. Although possession proceedings were issued, the harassment continued unabated and the health of the elderly couple was becoming compromised by the stress of the behaviour.
In a third case a Southwark Council cleaner was assaulted by a tenant and her partner. It was a serious and unprovoked assault due to the fact that the cleaner was in the process of mopping the lift and they were denied immediate access. A number of residents were aware of the incident and were very alarmed. In addition, cleaning staff were frightened to enter the block to carry out their work.
The injunction under Part 1 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 is a civil power which can be applied for to deal with anti-social individuals. Generally injunctions can provide a fast and effective protection for victims and communities and set clear standards of behaviour for perpetrators stopping behaviour from escalating. The new civil injunction is obtainable on the civil standard of proof with no need to prove ‘necessity’. The test is that the court is satisfied on balance of probabilities that the respondent has engaged or threatens to engage in ASB and the court considers that it is just and convenient to grant the injunction for the purpose of preventing the respondent from engaging in ASB.
Behaviours which can be addressed by injunctions include:
- Noise Nuisance.
- Pets/animal nuisance.
- Fly tipping.
- Verbal Abuse.
- ASB in communal areas.
Southwark Council has in the past used Housing Act injunctions to effectively deal with many different types of anti-social behaviour. It was considered that the behaviour described in the above scenarios could be addressed by way of the new Civil Injunction. Although other litigation was being utilised, the harm being caused to victims and the risks to them need to be addressed and quickly.
Civil Injunctions were obtained in both the cases which involved neighbour harassment. Both cases were applied for on notice and the perpetrator given an opportunity to defend their behaviour. Both cases were already in the court process for possession and the court understood the necessity of the order so as to protect witnesses. Power of arrest was granted in both cases.
In the case involving the elderly couple, the injunction was breached when the male head of the household threatened his neighbour and also continued to use noise as an instrument of harassment. He was arrested by the local police team and brought in front of the judge where he received an instant two week custodial sentence. As he failed to show any remorse the judge extended the terms of the injunction to exclude him from his property and from the estate where he lived. The council eventually secured an outright possession order and the household has subsequently been evicted.
In the other neighbour nuisance case, the injunction has not been breached and neighbours did notice an immediate reduction in the level of nuisance being caused. An outright possession order has subsequently been secured. The injunction with power of arrest was extended by the court to protect victims and witnesses after the eviction.
In the case following the assault upon the estate cleaner, the court granted a two year injunction with power of arrest. An injunction was in place within 48 hours and was granted without notice to the other side before being fully authorised for the two year period.
Injunctions are a quick and efficient remedy which can provide respite and protection to victims and witnesses. Breaching an injunction can leave a social housing tenant open to Mandatory Possession Proceedings. Positive requirements can be attached to the orders. In the above cases this was not considered appropriate and the court did not look to the council to provide this.
Public Space Protection Orders are designed to stop individuals or groups committing ASB in a public place. They are issued by councils, but their breach is a criminal offence. Consultation with those in the affected area is paramount and implementation can be for a maximum of up to three years. This power is being implemented across London to tackle a multitude of local concerns from violence and begging, to litter and super cars. They are probably the most controversial of the new powers as the test is purposely designed to be broad and to focus on the impact the ASB is having on victims and communities.
Absolute Grounds for Possession is also a new power which reflects the cultural shift of a victim-centred approach and provides an alternative route to possession while reducing the burden on victims so that they don’t have to give evidence twice. This power has already proved that it reduces heavy costs and unreasonable waiting times. This power has successfully been applied for by councils and housing providers.
There are five triggers for an AGP:
- criminal conviction
- breach of an injunction
- breach of a CBO
- closure of premises
- breach of a Noise Abatement Order.
Unit Manager for Southwark Anti-Social Behaviour