Since the riots across the UK, there have been a number of suggestions as to how the police and the government could respond to resolve the issues still simmering on the surface and prevent them in the future. Among these are limiting social media (which we’ve discussed at length here, here and here, among others), monitoring communication mediums such as Blackberry Messenger, increasing police powers and imposing curfews.
The Home Secretary confirmed in a speech yesterday that the government is seriously looking into what powers the police would need to impose curfews on the general public in a specific area or at times of crisis. At the moment, she noted that that police do not have the power to impose localised general curfews and there are limited powers to impose curfews on those under the age of 16. There are powers in place, however, to impose curfews on offenders in the case of bail, criminal sentencing or ASBO conditions. In particular, the focus seems to be on curfews for under sixteens.
The logic behind this idea is not lost on most of the public. We all saw the footage of 12 and 13 year old children bashing in car windows and looting shops for trainers. This kind of behaviour could have been prevented by good parenting, asking children where they are and being willing to question them if they came home with new swag. But in too many cases this simply didn’t happen, and the thought is that curfews may prevent these situations getting out of control again. Truth be told, what does a 13 year old have to do on the streets after midnight but get in trouble? There are no more films playing, shops are closed, you can’t go to the pub, so go home or to a friend’s house where hopefully there is adequate supervision.
But curfews on children are more difficult than that. Firstly, they only work if police are willing and able to enforce them, and secondly, if parents have the gumption to encourage children to abide by them. Additionally, they may unnecessarily invade the way a parent chooses to raise their own children. Otherwise, they’re just more words, words that mean little and have ramifications on the rest of society.
Blanket curfews, the other end of the debate spectrum for example, are much more controversial. It springs images of war-time suppression and martial law on societies. Even in crises of public order, there is no justification for denying the general public such basic liberties, particularly when the vast majority of the public are law-abiding individuals. In the case of bail or sentencing conditions, the justification is there. These are individuals convicted or charged with crimes who’s potential for illegal activity needs to be limited as much as possible to protect everyone else.
Protecting children from danger or preventing opportunities to make dangerous and illegal decisions has a noble cause, even if the means is questionable. Preventing a charged or convicted person from committing further indiscretions is the duty of law enforcement. But to restrict the British public in the name of law and order in such a way is in direct conflict with the values of democracy, freedom and liberty.