In a previous post, pommygranate discussed the importance of being allowed to offend. Socially, we’re at the point where people can simply declare, “I’m offended by that”, as though it’s the end of the matter – and in an increasing number of cases, they even have the law on their side!
In Australia, we have anti-vilification laws, which are bad enough – but in the UK, they have something much worse: Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, or ASBOs. Skepticlawyer discussed these in the past (at catallaxy):
ASBOs are civil orders, not a criminal penalty. This means they don’t appear on an individual’s criminal record – at least initially. However, breach of an ASBO is a criminal offence punishable by a fine or up to five years in prison. Crucially, their civil status means there is no objection to the use of hearsay (the UK abolished the rule against hearsay in civil proceedings in 1995). Oh, and then there’s the definition, under section 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Anti-social behaviour is “behaviour which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more people who are not in the same household as the perpetrator”. As you’ll appreciate, it’s entirely subjective.
The latest of these incidences has seen a “nuisance neighbour” jailed for twenty weeks. His crime? Whistling the “Addams Family” tune whenever he saw his neighbours.
Anyone who has had neighbour disputes knows they aint pretty… and this guy was being extremely immature and… well, a bit of as asshole… but what struck me about this article wasn’t simply the excessive punishment for basically “causing offence,” but the sense of entitlement of the complainants. Click the link, and check out their photo to see what I mean. This story is not presented as one of over-the-top nanny-statism – but as one of “justice being served” in defence of a poor elderly couple. They were offended, and that’s the end of the matter.