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Antisocial Behaviour (Prosecutions)

Volume 460: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

20. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to improve prosecution rates in cases of antisocial behaviour by young people; and if he will make a statement. (138945)

No full data are available in relation to the various different offences of antisocial behaviour, as distinct from other offences alleged to have been committed by young people. Overall last year, 121,648 cases were prosecuted against young people. Subject to the gravity of the offending, the CPS usually prosecutes a youth after he or she has had a reprimand or warning.

Whether it is the leafy lanes of Lichfield or the back streets of Glasgow, Mr. Speaker, there is no question but that antisocial behaviour is very disturbing to neighbourhoods. The Solicitor-General will know that only half of those who breach antisocial behaviour orders are prosecuted with custodial sentences. What can the Solicitor-General do to ensure that there is a real deterrent to prevent ASBOs from being breached in order to maintain calm and pleasant neighbourhoods?

The issue is important, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman supports the Government view on tackling antisocial behaviour. He has rightly said that it is important that those orders should be complied with, and magistrates have powers to deal with young people, and indeed others, who breach ASBOs. Some breaches are serious and merit a serious remedy, but others are less serious. It is important that such matters are dealt with, but it is also important that the response of the courts is proportionate. The CPS takes proportionality into account when it decides how to respond to a breach in a particular case.

Has the Solicitor-General looked at north Liverpool, where Judge Fletcher in the community justice centre is providing a model that should be followed elsewhere in order to tackle the prosecution of antisocial behaviour cases?

I have not only looked at the data on that but have been up there and spoken to Judge Fletcher, who appears to be doing an excellent job. The community court system in north Liverpool, which brings all the agencies together at considerable expense, is difficult to remodel elsewhere. However, the pilot seems to be working very effectively, so we must look at it with a great deal of care to see whether there are lessons that we can learn for the future.

We have already heard about the breach rates for antisocial behaviour orders. Community sentencing is particularly important for young people because two thirds of them will receive such a sentence if successfully prosecuted. Fifty per cent. of intensive supervision and surveillance programmes, which many young people get put on to when they are prosecuted, are also breached, but all that happens is that those 50 per cent. get put back on to the programme. Are not the Government successfully teaching young offenders that they can flout the law and nothing will happen to them, and is not that part of the problem as regards the growing numbers of young people who are being prosecuted?

The hon. Lady is entirely wrong. She should have listened to what I said to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant)—that the courts have the powers to deal with these issues, but they need to do so proportionately. Some breaches are very serious and need to be dealt with as such; others are not so serious and need to be dealt with as such. It depends on the circumstances. Trotting out such statistics obscures rather than clarifies the real issues that face the courts on a day-to-day basis. Instead of criticising the way in which the courts deal with these issues, she should bear in mind that they have a very difficult job to do and some very difficult judgments to make. Criticisms of the sort that she makes are not worthy.