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High Court judge outlines reasons for granting interim injunction over anti-social behaviour in park

A High Court judge has given his reasons for granting, despite his misgivings, the London Borough of Hackney an interim injunction against anti-social behaviour in a park.

Mr Justice Linden had made the order earlier this month. In London Borough of Hackney v Persons Unknown In London Fields, Hackney (The 'prescribed Area') [2020] EWHC 1900 (QB) the judge said the issues involved should come to a trial as soon as practicable.

He refused to make the interim injunction valid for a year, as the council had asked, removed a blanket ban on alcohol consumption and included only a limited power of arrest for breaches.

The judge said: “I have considerable doubts about the legal merits of the council's underlying claim as currently framed and some concerns about the appropriateness of the council using a private law claim for injunctive relief, combined with a power of arrest, to add to the relevant statutory powers which it and the police already have.

“However, it is not appropriate to resolve those doubts in the context of an application for interim relief.”

Hackney said there had been numerous incidents of anti-social behaviour in the park. It sought an order against persons unknown doing one or more of:

  • organising, attending or participating in an unlicenced music event and/or rave(s);
  • playing loud music;
  • urinating and/or defecating other than when making use of toilet facilities designed for this purpose;
  • lighting fires, fireworks, stoves, barbeques and/or naked flames (with the exception of a cigarette lighter), including on any equipment or entertainment device;
  • consuming or selling of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) save when used for a valid and demonstrable medicinal purpose;
  •  uprooting, destroying or damaging any tree, shrub or plant;
  • bringing vehicles, including any engine or generator, onto any part of the prescribed area, with the exception of vehicles/engines/generators belonging to the emergency services or employees, agents or contractors of the council;
  • leaving litter in the prescribed area;
  • threatening or using violence, or engaging in abusive behaviour towards members of the public or employees or agents or contractors of the claimant who question or challenge their engagement in any of the behaviour described above.

Mrs Justice Thornton had issued a temporary injunction on 3 July 2020, a week before Linden J considered the case, on the basis that the following day’s easing of lockdown restrictions created a sufficiently unusual reason for doing this. But she refused the council’s request to make the injunction valid for a year.

The most contentious issue was Hackney’s wish to ban consumption of alcohol in the park.

Linden J noted that Thornton J had said: “I have been particularly concerned about the council's proposal to introduce an alcohol ban on the basis that drinking alcohol is not of itself an unlawful activity.”

He too said his main concern was the proposed ban on alcohol as “any consumption of alcohol was intended to be caught, regardless of whether it accompanied any form of anti-social behaviour.”

A picnicking family might be in contempt of court if the parents had a glass of beer and even if they stuck to soft drinks could also fall foul of the law if a police officer or council employee or contractor “had reasonable grounds to suspect that there was vodka in it”, the judge explained.

Linden J said Hackney already had a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) in force that prohibited consumption of alcohol and anti-social behaviour in London Fields, which “seemed to me to provide adequate protection for park users and other members of the public”.

Hackney argued that he should include the alcohol ban in the injunction as the PSPO would expire in October and the legal process of issuing another would take time.

“It seemed to me that as a matter of discretion this told against the grant of interim relief by the court, rather than in favour: it would be inappropriate for the court to grant injunctive relief which short circuited the democratic procedures required to ban alcohol in London Fields which are mandated by Parliament, unless there were good reason to so,” Linden J said.

“This is even more so the case given that the council has not actually taken any of the steps required by section 72 of the 2014 Act despite the fact that it has been aware of the expiry date of the existing PSPO throughout.”

Given the PSPO was in place, the judge said he would omit alcohol from his order because, “I was concerned about a lack of clarity as to when a person would be regarded as drinking alcohol in conjunction with one of the other prohibited activities.”

He also questioned the position of someone who might be drunk but as a result of having consumed alcohol elsewhere first.

Linden J also refused to allow Hackney an interim injunction lasting a year.

He said: “Interim injunctions are not an end in themselves and should not be granted as a way of solving a problem without finally resolving the issues in a claim.”

Only with “some misgivings” did he allow a prohibition on “threatening or using violence, or engaging in abusive behaviour towards any member of the public or any employee, agent or contractor of the council “.

The judge said:”My misgivings were about whether this amounted to a usurpation of the role of the criminal law…but I was persuaded to underpin the primary prohibitions in this way on an interim basis.”

He did not accept that a power of arrest should be attached to all breaches of the interim injunction, but only the first three on the list.

Mark Smulian

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