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Social Housing Speed Read: Sentencing guidelines for breaching the terms of an anti-social behaviour injunction

Local authorities and private registered providers of social housing are aware that the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 contains a provision for specified bodies to seek injunctions to prevent anti-social behaviour of their tenants.

Once an injunction has been granted, any breach of the terms is (if proved) a contempt of court and enforceable by committal proceedings in the County Court.

However, when it comes to sentencing, the guidelines in relation to a breach of injunction have been, arguably, unclear over the years. A report was completed by the Civil Justice Council (“CJC”) on 8 July 2020 into the effectiveness of the civil injunction regime under Part 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (“the 2014 Act”) . The CJC expressed concern about how anti-social behaviour injunctions were operating in practice and noted that sentencing was inconsistent and often severe across England and Wales.

On 16 December 2022, the Court of Appeal considered these issues in three cases in which the landlord had successfully obtained injunctions against the appellants under S.1 of the 2014 Act.

Smith v Network Homes Ltd [2022]

In this case, the appellant was found to have breached the terms of the injunction nine separate times by way of making loud noises. The appellant was sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment, which was suspended for 12 months.

Lovett v Wigan Borough Council [2022]

Lovett, the appellant, had breached the terms of the injunction by staying in a property he was excluded from, as per the injunction. It was noted that there had been at least 177 previous breaches since 2015 and in turn the appellant was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Notably, the appellants grounds of appeal related to the findings of contempt, rather than the sentence imposed.

Hopkins v Optivo [2022]

This third case found the appellant admitting a breach of the injunction by shouting outside her property so as to disturb her neighbours. She was sentenced to 28 days imprisonment, which was suspended on the condition that there was no further breach of the injunction before 29 April 2023.

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Sentencing Guidelines and Principles

All three tenants appealed to the Court of Appeal. Noting the previous comments from the CJC, the Court joined the appeals in order to give guidance to County Court judges when sentencing for breach of anti-social behaviour injunctions. It was suggested that the Sentencing Council guidelines should be treated much more carefully.

The objectives for breach of an anti-social behaviour injunction were given , in order of priority, as follows:

  1. Ensuring future compliance with the order
  2. Punishment
  3. Rehabilitation

Judges should consider the degree of harm and culpability, as per the Sentencing Guidelines. Having identified these factors, the court can then adjust the sentence by taking into account additional elements including any relevant mitigating and aggravating factors. The guidelines highlight that custody is only appropriate in the “most serious breaches” or where other methods of securing compliance has failed.

In Lovett v Wigan Borough Council, the appeal was dismissed. Mr Lovett had a long history of disobeying injunctions and the sentence was, in this case, fair. In Hopkins v Optivo, the sentence was replaced by a finding of contempt but no further sanction; the breach appeared to be a “one off” and there were no aggravating circumstances. In Smith v Network Homes Ltd  the sentence was reduced from 12 weeks to one month, suspended for the same period.

When drafting applications under S.1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, applicants are advised to limit the amount of incidents to approximately ten incidents for a one day trial with three or four witnesses. Applicants should think strategically from the outset of an application and consider what the overall aim is. The Court of Appeal has provided well needed clarity and guidance on the issue of sanctions for breaches of anti-social behaviour injunctions. Notably, the Court of Appeal specifically said that the guidance is only supposed to apply to breaches of injunctions under the 2014 Act.

If you have any questions about any of the information above, please get in touch with John Murray or any of our expert Social Housing Lawyers.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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