Police are increasingly using their power to ban hundreds of people from Norwich city centre for up to two days at a time.

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The banning notices are handed out to mainly young people at night.

Norwich Policing Commander Superintendent Paul Sanford said he believed police in the city were using the powers, known as Section 27 notices, more now than two years ago.

He said: “We encourage the use of the notices in Norwich as we find that excluding disorderly people from the busiest areas of the city in the evenings has a very positive impact upon reducing crimes later on in the night.”

Figures obtained by the Norwich Evening News under the Freedom of Information Act show the police used the powers almost 500 times in Norwich and Great Yarmouth from May to October last year.

Of the 485 orders just 65 were made during the day.

The majority were made to young people, some aged as young as 16, at night, banning them from the whole of Norwich city centre for up to 48 hours.

No offence needs to have been committed but anyone refusing to leave or returning to the area during the time of the ban can be arrested.

The bans were introduced under the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 and give officers the power to ban a person from an area for up to 48 hours, if it is felt they may cause alcohol-related violence.

But one leading solicitor said they enabled police to act as “judge and jury” and called on officers to arrest people if they were breaking the law.

Simon Nicholls, from Belmores solicitors, who specialises in criminal defence, said: “A lot of people, both civil liberty lawyers and others, believe these orders are now being used to deal with individuals who are presenting a nuisance to police.

“The problem with that is that if you are committing an offence you should be arrested for it. If you are not, the order gives the police the power to impose a draconian order on someone.

“There is no right of appeal. A police officer can decide almost as judge and jury on the spot that someone is doing something that he doesn’t like.

“It is being used too often and in many cases unjustifiably.”

Mr Nicholls added that police in Norwich appeared to be relying more and more on the order.

“We are dealing with an increasing number of people for breaching the order,” he said.

Mr Nicholls told the Evening News that one of his clients was given a section 27 notice and was then arrested almost immediately for breaching it while standing at a taxi rank to leave the area.

“There is some suggestion that people are not getting arrested for many public order offences as it is too much effort to arrest and they get one of these instead,” he said.

“The impression is that the power is being used more than you would think and perhaps not really for the right reasons.”

However Superintendent Stuart Gunn commented: “It is a particularly useful tool in Norfolk’s town and city centres to tackle those issues associated with the night-time economy.

“In basic terms, it assists us in taking drunken people off the streets to make these areas safer for the majority of people who want to enjoy a night out.”

Under the powers police can ban anyone aged over 16 from an area for up to two days if they believe their presence is “likely” to cause or contribute to crime or disorder.

Civil rights group Liberty said in a report in 2011 that banning someone from an area for 48 hours under the notice was “particularly excessive”.

They said: “If the purpose of the power is to disperse a group of individuals with immediate effect, it is difficult to justify why an individual should be prevented from returning to the area the next day.”

What do you think? Write to Norwich Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk.

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