‘Asbomania’: meaning and origin

The informal British-English noun Asbomania denotes the perceived indiscriminate and excessive use by the authorities of anti-social behaviour orders in dealing with people causing a nuisance to their fellow citizens.

This noun is composed of:
– the acronym Asbo (also ASBO), from the initial letters of anti-social behaviour order;
– the combining form -mania.

The noun Asbomania seems to have been coined in 2005 by the Spanish jurist and human rights activist Álvaro Gil-Robles (born 1944), who was the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights from 1999 to 2006—the following is from Welcome to Asbo Nation, by Martin Bright, Anushka Asthana and Lauren Thompson, published in The Observer (London, England) of Sunday 12th June 2005:

It’s official. We are now living in ‘Asbo Nation’.
In a report deeply critical of Britain’s human rights record, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, said the ‘naming and shaming’ of people on antisocial behaviour orders was a breach of their human rights, and that children under 16 should not be put in custody for breaching them.
In a final swipe the commissioner suggested that the whole country was suffering from ‘Asbomania’.

The noun anti-social behaviour order designates a court order obtainable by local authorities which places restrictions on the movements or actions of a person who persistently engages in anti-social behaviour. Anti-social behaviour orders were introduced in England and Wales and in Scotland by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. (In England and Wales, the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 replaced anti-social behaviour orders with civil injunctions and criminal behaviour orders.)

The earliest occurrences of ASBO that I have found are from The Herald (Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland) of Monday 17th November 1997:

Minister seeks legislation for stronger powers over anti-social tenants
Councils to lead curb on bad neighbours

Time is running out for Scotland’s “neighbours from hell” who are set to face a Government crackdown on their anti-social behaviour.
Scottish Home Affairs Minister Henry McLeish * yesterday served notice on nuisance neighbours when he spelled out details of steps he proposes to curb their disruption. He is taking action to secure “suitable legislative provisions” in the Crime and Disorder Bill to be introduced shortly in Parliament.
The move would give Scotland’s local authorities, who would be able to apply for Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos), greater clout in trying to deal with unruly tenants.
Only councils will be able to apply for the orders, which will not cover under-16s. Unlike England and Wales – and despite the fact there was 55% support in a Scottish Office consultation exercise for their involvement – the police will not have the power to apply for orders.
It would be unprecedented for the police to apply direct to the civil courts in Scotland, and Mr McLeish has gone along with this and proposed only council involvement in seeking Asbos.
The Minister said he was taking action after the consultation exercise showed widespread support for their introduction. This was a clear message that the Scottish people were behind his plans to clamp down on anti-social behaviour. “ I have made no secret of the fact that I believe Scotland experiences an unacceptable level of anti-social behaviour and in our manifesto we promised to tackle this problem,” he said.
The fact that 80% of those who expressed a view, including the police, tenants associations and 21 local authorities, favoured the introduction of Asbos had assured him that Scots shared his views.
He added: “People have the right to be safe and at peace in their homes and in their communities. This is at the cornerstone of our vision for a safer and more prosperous Scotland.
“No one should be prepared to put up with the anti-social behaviour we see all too often. I will now be taking steps to secure suitable legislative provisions in the Crime and Disorder Bill.”
A spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said it recognised there were some serious nuisance neighbour problems and would welcome steps that would allow it to deal with these more effectively.
On the costs for councils in seeking, making and monitoring the orders, Mr McLeish said the additional costs were not likely to be so great as to justify extra resources.
The consultation paper said that while there were existing laws in place, the Government believed there was a place and need for a new type of order which would, in effect, prohibit certain named individuals – including entire households – from behaving in a disruptive and anti-social manner. This prohibition would be backed up by criminal sanctions.
According to the Scottish Office, those who responded were content that the order should be made by a sheriff who should have discretion over its terms and duration.
The document canvassed the idea that the prosecutor might be empowered to apply for an order as part of a criminal prosecution. While 70% supported this, there were, said the Scottish Office, technical difficulties in trying to mix civil and criminal procedure in this way.
Mr McLeish has decided that it should be for the local authority to apply for an order as normal following criminal proceedings if it considers this necessary to protect the community from future harm.

* The Scottish politician Henry Baird McLeish (born 1948) served as Minister of State for Scotland from May 1997 to June 1999.

The acronym ASBO then occurs in the following from the Press and Journal (Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland) of Tuesday 18th August 1998:

Bad-neighbour law weak
A gap in Government plans to curb anti-social neighbours has emerged.
It will not be possible to use anti-social behaviour orders against unruly children. Draft guidance issued by the Scottish Office was: “Applications for ASBOs can only be made in respect of those aged 16 or over . . .
“ASBOs cannot be used as a means of requiring parents whose children are misbehaving to take any particular action.”
Breaching an ASBO will be a criminal offence, but the guidance makes it clear that few of the orders will be made. Procedures for imposing them are lengthy.
The guidance adds: “It is expected that ASBOs will be seen as a last resort and that there will be relatively few orders.”
Home Affairs Minister Henry McLeish brought in ASBOs under the Crime and Disorder Act. Despite their shortcomings, he insisted that the orders should make a real difference to people’s lives.

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