Britain's flagship policy for curbing antisocial behaviour may be adopted in New Zealand.
Police Minister Annette King is considering employing anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) as a way to overcome Bill of Rights problems with banning individuals and gang patches in public.
They could also be used to tackle neighbours from hell, out-of-control youths, and low-level crime, even though they have had only limited success in the UK.
Introduced in 1998, the orders are made in civil court to stop individuals entering particular areas or engaging in specific activities such as intimidation, wearing certain clothes or public swearing. Breaches are punishable by up to five years in prison.
Because ASBOs are heard in civil courts, complaints do not have to be proven beyond reasonable doubt, merely judged on the balance of probability. Hearsay evidence is also admissible, leading to disquiet about anonymous tip-offs and witch-hunts.
A spokesperson for Ms King's office confirmed the minister was looking at what was in place in Britain and investigating ASBOs further. The possibility of ASBOs here comes about because of Rotorua District Council's intention to pass a bylaw to ban repeat offenders from entering its CBD.
"We're a tourist town and often these people pick on vulnerable visitors. Our reputation is at stake. I don't want it affected by having ratbags in town," said Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winters.
"We've drawn up draft legislation in conjunction with the police and our own legal advisers and will get more advice from the Minister of Police when she gets back from the UK."
Mr Winters' plan, called "the five and five", is that people who have had five convictions for dishonesty-related crimes in the last five years will, on their sixth conviction, be ordered to keep out of town or face a $1000 fine.
ASBOs may provide a way forward for Wanganui District Council's plans to ban gang insignia in public places - a proposal that also runs into human rights problems. The orders could also have some application in the fight against graffiti and curtailing the activities of boy racers.