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Dispersal Powers and the Symbolic Role of Anti-Social Behaviour Legislation

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This article considers the development and use of dispersal powers, introduced by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, and situates these within the context of wider legislation and policy initiatives. It explores the ways in which the powers have been interpreted by the courts and implemented by police and local authorities. The article critically analyses the manner in which the powers: introduce ‘public perceptions’ as a justification for police encroachments on civil liberties; conform to a hybrid-type prohibition; constitute a form of preventive exclusion that seeks to govern future behaviour; are part of a wider trend towards discretionary and summary justice; and potentially criminalise young people on the basis of the anxieties that groups congregating in public places may generate amongst others. It is argued that the significance of dispersal orders derives as much from the symbolic messages and communicative properties they express, as from their instrumental capacity to regulate behaviour.

Keywords: Dispersal powers; anti-social behaviour; criminalisation of young people; future governance; preventive exclusion; public perceptions

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Law, University of Leeds

Publication date: September 1, 2008


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