London (CNSNews.com) – Feeding birds. Letting the front lawn get a little weedy. Crying inside your home. These are just some of the behaviors that local authorities across Britain are cracking down on using powers given to them two years ago, according to a new report issued this week.
As part of a broad-ranging crime bill passed by Parliament in 2014 at the urging of Theresa May – then home secretary and now prime minister – cities and town can now ban any particular residents from doing anything which officials deem to hurt the local quality of life.
It is a criminal offense to ignore these written notices, which can also compel someone to do something, such as keep the windows of their house clean. Individuals can be fined up to little over $3,000 if convicted.
The government argued that these powers were needed to give towns the powers they needed to tackle persistent public offenders, put the needs of victims first, and tackle streets that had become “no-go” areas.
However, the Manifesto Club, a civil-liberties group, charged in a report this week that towns across Britain were using these powers in a wholly unprecedented way.
Citing data gained through Freedom of Information requests, the group said that 107 municipalities issued 3,943 of these community protection orders between October 2014 and October 2015.
While some issued notices for aggressive begging or street prostitution, others did so for actions like feeding seagulls or making “derogatory remarks” about the neighbors.
Hundreds of notices were issued for gardens that were deemed “untidy” or “messy” or simply “eyesores.”
South Gloucestershire cracked down on playing the accordion in public and five municipalities issued notices for residents to not shout, cry or argue – in their own homes.
There were also several instances where citizens were hit with notices for “nuisance” bird feeding or letting their dogs roam free.
Josie Appleton, author of the report, said the 2014 law underpinning the notices gave towns a blank check.
“There’s no limit on how it can be used,” she said. “That’s how you get quite bizarre situations.”
As in the United States, there is ongoing debate in Britain over how much power to give government to tackle such issues such street homelessness or anti-social behavior.
Under the same 2014 law, town and city councils were also granted the power to ban actions within specific areas.
This has led to charities complaining that they were sometimes restricted from soliciting donations in public.
Liberty, another civil-rights group, has argued that councils are using their powers to sweep the most vulnerable off the streets, and in ways that are being unfair and overbroad.
Liberty has criticized authorities in the southern English town of Dawlish for their efforts to tackle persistent anti-social drinking in the area around the local railroad station and seafront.
Part of the order issued to deal with this problem made it an offense for anyone to “shout, swear or act in a manner as to cause annoyance, harassment, alarm or distress to any person” within the area.
Appleton said that despite the current situation, she was somewhat optimistic.
She said that the government had recognized that there was a problem and that these orders might be rolled back.
“I think it’s very early days,” she said. “I’m hopeful.”