Updated: Sep 19, 2020
The police often say they don’t have powers to deal with noise from private property. This is misleading at best. While it's true they don't have the anti-noise powers created under the Environmental Protection Act 1990—those were given to local authorities—both the police and councils have access to a menu of powers contained in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
The question is whether these powers are being used in Bristol, and if not, why not? This article (a revision and update of one I published in June 2018) examines the ASB 2014 powers and related matters. There are links to source documents at the end.
Anti-social behaviour is defined in the Act as
(a) conduct that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person,
(b) conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a person in relation to that person’s occupation of residential premises
(I've omitted (c), which has a specialised meaning.)
Source: Link 1 at end.
Noise is clearly one of the types of conduct that could fall within these definitions. This is made explicit in Home Office briefing documents on use of the ASB 2014 powers:
... [the Act] has introduced a number of powers that the police, local authorities and social landlords can use to tackle anti-social noise swiftly and effectively (my emphasis)
Source: Link 3 at end.
While several of the powers in ASB 2014 are restricted as to how and when they might be used, there are two which appear relevant to the problems of dealing with events such as student parties. One is the Community Protection Notice (CPN); the other is the Closure Notice.
Community Protection Notice. Issued by police or councils to individuals, or a body, if satisfied that
(a) the conduct of the individual or body is having a detrimental effect, of a persistent or continuing nature, on the quality of life of those in the locality, and
(b) the conduct is unreasonable.
Source: Link 1 at end.
The notice will require the individuals or body to stop doing specified things, do specified things, or take reasonable steps to "achieve specified results".
However—here's a catch—a CPN can only be issued if it has been preceded by a written warning. The individual or body must have been told that a CPN will be issued unless their conduct ceases to have a detrimental effect; the issuer must also ensure that the recipient is given enough time to comply.
Breach of a CPN is a criminal offence. A person can receive a fixed-penalty notice of up to £100, or a higher fine if it goes to court; for an organisation, the fine can be up to £20,000.
The recipient of a CPN can appeal to a magistrates’ court on various grounds, including that the notice targets conduct the recipient cannot reasonably be expected to control or affect, or that the requirements are unreasonable.
Example 1. In the summer of 2018 I exchanged emails with a PCSO in Durham who had been involved in using CPNs to clamp down on student parties. She told me: "We aim to attend every party that is noisy after 11pm and issue the warning. ... The warning notice usually halts them straight away. We usually re-visit the address half an hour later. Should the party still be ongoing, they will be issued with a notice straight away. This has only happened once."
When I asked more specifically what interval they allowed between issue of the warning notice and the CPN, she told me "30 minutes". I was assured that if a CPN had to be issued, "the party usually stops straight away—we always say they could get a fine or be summonsed to court, so I think that scares them."
I also queried whether there had been any problems in interpreting the legal threshold imposed by the Act's stipulation that the targeted behaviour must be "persistent or continuing". Her reply: "We have had this through our legal team and agreed that the party going on past 11 would justify this. Plus, because of all the information the [students] get beforehand at the start of term about this, they cannot contest that they did not know about it."
Example 2. More recently I have been in touch with a resident in the Lenton area of Nottingham. There, they have what amounts to a joint venture by the police and council which results in night-time patrols by Community Protection Officers (CPOs). These are council employees, but they wear a uniform similar to that of the police. I'm told that when residents call 101 with party complaints, "sometimes police will turn up but more often it will be CPOs. They will always issue a CPNW [ie, a warning notice] on the spot. Quite often they will close the party down, especially if the students start being disrespectful or argue."
When I asked our neighbourhood policing team here in Bristol in early 2019 why ASB powers aren't being used (and I had forwarded the Durham details summarised above), I was told:
Application of the powers and an individual’s interpretation of 'persistent' and 'detrimental' are not always commonly applied and it therefore leads to a degree of subjectivity / discretion around the power's usage and or its implementation.
Source: Email to me
I fail to see how these can be big obstacles. Firstly, I doubt the issues of interpretation are much different from those that apply with any other piece of legislation. Secondly, the Home Office guidance on use of ASB 2014 seems implicitly to recognise that judgement must be exercised by issuers:
Similarly, decisions on whether behaviour is persistent or continuing in nature should be taken on a case by case basis. For example, where an individual is storing rubbish in their garden for many months, proving persistence will be relatively straightforward. However, there will be cases where behaviour is continuing over a much shorter time period and the individual has been asked to cease the behaviour but has refused to do so and persists with the behaviour.
Source: Link 2 at end, page 40
At the time of this writing (May 2019), these questions about use of ASB powers in Bristol still await a satisfactory answer. The other power I mentioned is described below.
Closure Power. This power is not burdened with a “persistent or continuing” test. Home Office guidance describes it in these terms:
The closure power is a fast, flexible power that can be used to protect victims and communities by quickly closing premises that are causing nuisance or disorder.
Source: Link 2 at end.
The power may be used when a police or council officer of suitable rank is satisfied
(a) that the use of particular premises has resulted, or (if the notice is not issued) is likely soon to result, in nuisance to members of the public, or
(b) that there has been, or (if the notice is not issued) is likely soon to be, disorder near those premises associated with the use of those premises
Source: Link 1 at end.
The first stage is a Closure Notice, lasting up to 48 hours. This closes the property to everyone except the habitual residents and the owner (so if the house was full of party guests, they would have to leave). Unless the notice is rescinded, the case must be put before the local magistrates within 48 hours; they may make a Closure Order lasting for up to six months and may deny all access, if they deem it necessary. For the purposes of emptying a house being used for a late-night party, a Notice would presumably be cancelled the following morning, having served its purpose, and would therefore not go to court.
Notices and Orders can cover any land or building, including residential property. Breach is a criminal offence, with unlimited fines and up to three months’ jail for breaching a Notice, or six months for an Order.
There is potentially some bureaucracy involved in use of closure powers which might slow execution, such as a requirement for the police or council to first conduct consultations with anyone they deem appropriate, including the owner, if they can reach him or her.
Nonetheless, this power seems potentially to be useful in dealing with student parties. Home Office guidance says, helpfully, that the powers "could be used to deal with illegal raves or noisy parties where large numbers of people are present." (Source: Link 3 at end)
Here's a quick round-up of other powers contained in ASB 2014:
Civil Injunction. Bans an individual from indulging in ASB; issued by county court or High Court on application by police or council. It seems likely there would have to be an established pattern of behaviour before an injunction was sought, so probably not the quick remedy we need.
Criminal Behaviour Order. Bans an individual from indulging in ASB; issued by a court against a person who has been convicted of an offence. So, not a good fit for student-noise situations.
Dispersal Power. Enables police to ban a person from an area for up to 48 hours if he or she is committing ASB, or is deemed likely to. This power can only be used in public places.
Public Spaces Protection Order. Issued by a council after consultation with the police and others. May restrict or ban behaviour deemed detrimental to the quality of life in the locality which is also persistent, continuing and unreasonable. Enforced by police or council officers. Breach is a criminal offence. Restrictions can be targeted against certain groups and at certain times.
Community Trigger. A mechanism that allows dissatisfied residents to request a review of how recent ASB complaints have been dealt with. They must be able to cite three complaints in the previous six months. Review is conducted by relevant bodies, chiefly the police and council. May lead to an action plan for dealing with future incidents. To qualify, the cited incidents must have been officially logged, which is a problem when 101 call handlers refuse to record details of noisy parties. Also, it's not clear if the public has any input into the review process.
In 2018, I wrote to the Bristol City Council office that deals with Community Trigger applications, requesting further information. Despite two follow-up phone calls, I received no reply. Application can also be made through the police, and I may try that route if a situation arises where a Trigger submission seems worthwhile.