Changing the rules*

Is a problem with next door's music a matter of taste or grounds for an Asbo? Is Santa's grotto fit

I have recently moved, and love everything about my new flat – except the couple next door.

One of them seems to be learning some kind of wind instrument, and since I started drowning

out the din with some proper music, they have given me no

end of grief – banging the walls, screaming abuse down the phone, and ringing the doorbell at all hours. Can I Asbo them?

P****d off, Swansea

There is no reason in principle why not. Magistrates have been dispensing Antisocial Behaviour Orders liberally (numerically speaking) ever since they were introduced in April 1999. At least 7,356 have been issued so far, and the unfriendly activities that they have targeted - on peril of criminal conviction - include acts of swearing or begging, and manifestations of mental illness. They in effect allow magistrates to tailor-make new offences to fit unpleasant people, and then to criminalise them for failing to change.

To obtain an Asbo, you would simply need to persuade a court that your neighbours are causing you harassment, alarm or distress. Further blowing of instruments on their part could then see them sent to jail for up to five years.

If nothing else, the laws of probability make it likely that there are justices who would take your side. I am troubled by your decision to counter their noise with high-volume melodies, however. I fully appreciate that it was inspired by a love of music - but, without wishing to add to your alarm and distress, I fear your neighbours might contend that it deprives you of a legal leg on which to stand.

As personal sympathies play such a strong part in this field, the musical tastes of the magistrates who hear the case could be crucial; so I thought it fitting to gather such precedents on sonic Asbos as exist. It turns out that Eminem's music was once the subject of an order in Birmingham. Gangsta rap has apparently been proscribed by magistrates in Worksop. Interestingly, or otherwise, West Lothian Magistrates' Court issued an order against a certain Kevin Mullen two years ago, following complaints that he would not stop playing the "Do They Know It's Christmas?" single. Adjust your arguments, expectations or volume controls accordingly.

I recently applied for a seasonal Santa job in the grotto of the local shopping mall, but was told that someone more "athletic" was needed. That seemed

pretty unfair to me. I’m no spring chicken, but I’m still sprightly enough. Can I complain?

Stanley P, Coventry

You can, and you may even be entitled to compensation. Since 1 October 2006, it has been illegal to treat job applicants adversely on the grounds of age, and discrimination does not have to be explicit to be unlawful.

The crucial question would be whether athleticism was a "genuine and determining occupational requirement" for the position you sought.

If the mall could establish that it ordinarily required its Santas to carry out strenuous tasks, it would have a defence. An employment tribunal would probably conclude that you had suffered disguised discrimination, on the other hand, if the job was a sedentary one. Much will therefore depend on the precise nature of the grotto.

Although I am no expert on the subject, I imagine that a traditional Christmas workshop, structured around negotiations with children and the supervision of elves, would favour your case. A more physically demanding environment - involving the loading of presents, for example, or the restraint of reindeer - might well do the opposite.

I note finally that you can disregard my advice entirely if your 65th birthday is less than six months away, as no legal remedy is available from that point onward. Age discrimination is a younger person's game.

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