Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Disturbing the Peace -- and Democracy

I've been away, and I have to get back into the saddle with an easy one.

In April of 2009, a 48-year-old housewife from Wearside in England was "remanded in custody" for having "excessively noisy sex". In December, she pled guilty.

48-year-old Brit Catherine Cartwright ignored a court-ordered ban on her noisy sex, and has pleaded guilty to making love with sounds described as "murder," "unnatural," and capable of drowning out her neighbors' televisions.

Cartwright had been banned from her noisy romps after hundreds of complaints. Even her postman and a women who walked her child to school past Cartwright's house complained.

The Blair-ian (Tony, not Eric) mechanism by which Caroline Cartwright was thrown into durance vile is an "Anti-Social Behaviour Order" or ASBO/Asbo. In particular, Ms. Cartwright's ASBO prohibited her (under pain of arrest, apparently) from making "excessive noise during sex" anywhere in England.

ASBOs have been issued to prevent teenagers from:

  • wearing a single golf glove (allegedly the symbol of a gang);
  • uttering the word "grass" as a threat;
  • play football in the street;
  • joining a group of more than three other teens;
  • entering any "car park, school ground, or garden" without an invitation;
  • meeting their brother in public;
  • entering any subway;
  • wearing a hood or cap at night;
  • using the front door of his house;
  • riding on a motorcycle (as driver or passenger);
  • riding or pushing a bicycle.

Other bizarre ASBOs include prohibitions against:

  • jumping into rivers or canals;
  • sniffing petrol in Teesside (apparently it's OK elsewhere);
  • being seen wearing underwear at the window or in the garden (I'm assuming this means the underwear being visible, not having underwear on under the clothes);
  • climbing on any structure over 1 metre high without explicit permission;
  • making sarcastic remarks to the neighbors.

ASBOs are handled by civil courts. The standard of proof is allegedly indistinguishable from the criminal standard, but hearsay evidence is allowed (which means the defendant isn't allowed to cross-examine all witnesses). Defendants are also not allowed to compel testimony or the release of evidence held by applicants or others. The result is that the standard of proof is automatically lower than required for criminal conviction. And yet breach of an ASBO is a criminal offense bearing a potential 5 year prison sentence.