In a case of interest to local authorities and social landlords, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a 12-month prison sentence imposed on a pregnant tower block resident who persistently caused a nuisance to her neighbours in breach of an anti-social behaviour injunction was excessive.
The woman had annoyed fellow residents by her constant shouting, banging, swearing and noisy rowing with her visiting boyfriend. At the behest of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, she was committed to prison for contempt of court after a county court judge found that she had defied the terms of an injunction which forbade her from inviting her boyfriend onto the premises and from causing nuisance, annoyance, harassment or distress to her neighbours.
In allowing her appeal, and reducing her sentence to five months, the court observed that the woman was a recovering heroin addict who had endured a ‘disadvantaged and tumultuous background’ and that her ‘volatile relationship’ with her boyfriend – who she used as an ‘emotional prop’ - lay at the root of her behaviour. The heavily pregnant woman was also starting to take steps to deal with her heroin and alcohol dependence.
Lord Justice Pitchford concluded: "It is clear from the terms of the judge's decision that, in imposing a longer period of imprisonment, he was hoping to protect the appellant, and perhaps her unborn child, from herself. I have some sympathy with the judge's approach but I have concluded that the deprivation of liberty is the most serious sanction available to the court and the appropriate period of custody is the lowest period which the seriousness of the breaches can properly justify."