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Closure Orders - The Cinderella of ASB Management?

2015 is going to be a busy time for those involved in the management and prevention of anti-social behaviour. A tearful goodbye will be bid to ASBOs and the ASBI and practitioners will have to turn their attention to the new injunction provisions contained in the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act and continue to understand how the new mandatory possession grounds, Community Protection Notices and Public Space Protection Orders are operating in practice. In amongst these much-heralded tools is the often overlooked closure order. A survivor of the ASB reforms that have been undertaken during the current Parliament, the closure order may well be about to have its day in the spotlight.

Closure orders have been around for a number of years, with the ability to allow the swift closure of properties linked with the use, production or supply of Class A drugs, serious ASB, and even the closure of brothels. The provisions of the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act have affected all 3 of these types of closure orders. The legislation regarding brothel closure orders has been amended a little but primarily remains the remit of the sexual offences legislation and is not therefore a focus for this article.

The Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 amends and consolidates the legislation in respect of ASB-based closure orders into a single piece of legislation, repealing the previous provisions in the ASB Act 2003.

The closure order can be highly effective. A two stage process is involved. Firstly a closure notice needs to be served. This is served by the Police or Local Authority if satisfied that

(1) the use of premises has resulted in, or is likely to soon result in, nuisance to members of the public, or

(2) that there has been, or is likely to soon be, disorder near the premises associated with the use of the premises,

and that the notice is necessary to prevent that nuisance or disorder from continuing, occurring or recurring. If this test is met, the closure notice can be served and the premises can immediately be closed down for a maximum 48 hour period to everyone save for the usual occupants or the owner of the premises. Within a very short period of timeproblematic premises can immediately be brought under control.

Within the 48 hour period, an application should then be made to the magistrates' court for a closure order. The application should be accompanied by supporting evidence detailing the ASB and by written evidence of consultation with other agencies. If the magistrates are satisfied

(1) that a person has engaged in or is likely to engage in disorderly, offensive or criminal behaviour on the premises, or

(2) that the use of the premises has resulted in or is likely to result in serious nuisance to members of the public, or

(3) that there has been or is likely to be disorder near those premises associated with the use of those premises

a closure order can be made for a period not exceeding 3 months. An application to extend the order for a further period of not exceeding 3 months can be made if there are concerns that problems will recommence if the order is not extended.

Therefore, within the space of just a few days, a property associated with ASB can be closed down, potentially for a period of 6 months. This period of respite can then be used to attempt to bring the problems with the property to a permanent end.

In the case of rented residential premises, the making of a closure order has taken on an even greater significance. Part 5 of the 2014 Act sets out a new mandatory possession ground in cases where serious ASB has taken place. Condition 4 of the new ground, provides that a landlord has the ability to seek a mandatory possession order where a property has been the subject of a closure order. Therefore, not only can a problem premises be immediately shut down, the making of such an order can then be used to obtain a possession order. If this is pursued swiftly, it could be possible for such an order to be made within the period of the closure order.

The introduction of the mandatory possession provisions should make closure orders an appealing option to housing providers. Further, closure orders could in some cases be a useful alternative to plug the gap left by the imminent disappearance of the ASBO or as an alternative to the soon-to-be-introduced new injunction.

It may have critics, but it appears that the closure order is set to emerge from the shadows to become a regular feature of ASB management.