‘Ard en fast rule*

James v Birmingham City Council [2010] EWHC 282 (Admin) is a further dispute about the power of the court to vary an ASBO.

A magistrates court may make and ASBO against any person over the age of 10 if it can be proved (to the criminal standard of proof, using the civil rules of evidence) that he has acted in an anti-social manner, that is to say, in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as himself and that it is necessary for such an order to be made – s.1(1), Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and R (McCann) v Crown Court at Manchester [2003] 1 AC 787.

At least one incident of ASB in the six months prior to the application must be proved – s.127, Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980. There is, however, no prohibition on the court considering conduct which pre or post-dates the complaint – Chief Constable of West Mercia Constabulary v Boorman [2005] EWHC 2559 (Admin); Stevens v South East Surrey Magistrates’ Court [2005] EWHC 1456 (Admin); Birmingham City Council v Dixon [2009] EWHC 761 (Admin).

Either party may apply for an ASBO to be varied or discharged (s.1(8), 1998 Act), although no order may be discharged during the first two years without the consent of the authority that obtained the ASBO (s.1(9).

The power to vary an ASBO includes a power to extend its duration – Leeds City Council v RG [2007] EWHC 1612; [2007] 1 WLR 3025. Where the variation seeks to impose more stringent obligations (including an extended length) on the defendant, the authority should lead evidence to establish that such an order is necessary – Leeds, above.

Significantly, there is no right of appeal to the Crown Court against a decision of the magistrates’ to vary (or not to vary) an ASBO; one must either seek judicial review or appeal by way of case stated – Langley v Preston Crown Court [2008] EWHC 2623 (Admin).

Birmingham had obtained an ASBO against Mr James in July 2006, to run for a period of 3 years. In December 2008, they applied to vary the ASBO so as to extend the duration, exclusion zone and list of persons that he could not associate with. It adduced evidence of drug related convictions in 2008 in another part of Birmingham. The court was also provided with evidence of convictions for breaches of the ASBO and CCTV footage of Mr James, together with others, hanging around (and obscuring his face) outside of some shops which was said to be further evidence of gang related activity.

The appellant opposed the making of the variation and argued that the authority should (a) apply for a fresh order and (b) prove some further act of ASB within six months of the application for the variation having been made. The DJ rejected both submissions, but stated a case for the High Court. The questions were:

(a) was it correct (on the facts of the case) for him to allow the variation and not require the authority to issue fresh proceedings?

(b) was it correct that an application for a variation did not require proof of further ASB within 6 months of the application being made?

The appeal was dismissed and both questions answered “yes”. There was no requirement to prove further ASB on an application for a variation. The power in s.1(8), 1998 was expressed in very wide terms and did not oblige the court to consider any particular type of evidence.

Some variations would, of necessity, not be predicated on further ASB (i.e. the defendant got a job in the exclusion zone). This was so regardless of the type of variation being sought.

The only question for the court was whether such a variation was necessary in order to properly protect the public. If the existing ASBO was not achieving that end then, in principle, it should be varied.

In deciding whether a variation was necessary, the court would need to have evidence before it to justify each variation and, in most cases, the evidence would be of further ASB, but, as a matter of law, it was not necessary to prove any such acts. S.127, 1980 Act merely required that the application be  made within 6 months of event or circumstance which allegedly rendered the original order inappropriate.

It was entirely proper for the variation to be made. There was no suggestion that the authority was seeking to defeat a right of appeal and the new complaints were closely linked to the ASB which underpinned the original order. It made sense to extend the original order and not require the authority to seek a fresh order.

On the facts of the case, one thing did, however, trouble the court. It appeared that the appellant had been in prison for most or all of the six months leading up to the variation application. If that was true, then any of the allegations against him could not have been true and it may have been that the DJ proceeded on a false factual basis. However, nether party was able to confirm the date of his imprisonment and so the court was unwilling to find that the DJ had erred on this basis.

* Jonathan Manning of Arden Chambers for BCC, Victoria Osler of Arden Chambers for Mr James. My attempt at humour. Sorry.

About J

J is a barrister. He considers housing law to be the single greatest kind of law known to humankind and finds it very odd that so few people share this view.
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