UK Liberty

The Blair legacy is a police state – if we let him

Posted in law and order, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on May 27, 2007

The Sunday Times (and the Telegraph and BBC):

NEW anti-terrorism laws are to be pushed through before Tony Blair leaves office giving “wartime” powers to the police to stop and question people.

John Reid, the home secretary, who is also quitting next month, intends to extend Northern Ireland’s draconian police powers to interrogate individuals about who they are, where they have been and where they are going.

Are they expecting someone to reply, “My name is Osama bin Laden, I just picked up a bomb and I’m on the way to blow something up?”

Under the new laws, police will not need to suspect that a crime has taken place and can use the power to gain information about “matters relevant” to terror investigations.

Anyone remember the ‘sus law’?

If suspects fail to stop or refuse to answer questions, they could be charged with a criminal offence and fined up to £5,000. Police already have the power to stop and search people but they have no right to ask for their identity and movements.

No general police power to stop and question has ever been introduced in mainland Britain except during wartime.

Indeed, an extreme situation requiring extreme measures – that were occasionally abused.

Civil liberties campaigners last night branded the proposed measures “one of the most significant moves on civil liberties since the second world war”.

Ironically, the stop and question power is soon to be repealed in Northern Ireland as part of the peace agreement. Home Office officials admitted, however, that the final wording of the new power to stop and question in the rest of the UK might have to include a requirement for reasonable suspicion.

Indeed, why should the police be allowed to stop me going about my business if they don’t have a reasonable suspicion I’m involved in criminal activity?

The disclosure coincides with a rare attack by Blair on Britain’s judges for emasculating his antiterrorism legislation.

Sorry, what was that? “Rare?” New keyboard please, I just sprayed some tea on it. I didn’t know the Sunday Times was venturing into satire.

Ministers will seek to justify the new powers on the grounds that they will be “useful” for the police and “less intrusive” than the current measure to stop and search, which they will not need to use so often. Officers often have to spend hours filling out paperwork after making stops and searches.

Presumably some sort of record-keeping will be required under this proposed law as well?

Reid is planning to push through a counter-terrorism bill next month before he and Blair leave office. As well as the power to stop and question individuals, the home secretary also wants to introduce two new police powers in the name of of combating Islamic terrorism: the power to take documents away for examination even if their value as evidence is not immediately obvious; and the power to remove vehicles in order to examine them.

Jane Winter, director of British Irish Rights Watch, said: “This is one of the most significant moves on civil liberties since the second world war, a sledgehammer to crack a nut. This looks like a return to the ‘sus’ laws, except even then the police needed to have some suspicion.”

Shami Chakrabati, director of the civil rights group Liberty, said: “The police should not have powers to run around questioning people willy-nilly.”

Liberty also raised concerns that a unit set up last year to identify individuals who pose a security threat to VIPs, including the cabinet and royal family, could use the Mental Health Act to detain people without trial.

The Fixated Threat Assessment Centre, which is run by Scotland Yard and whose staff includes psychiatrists and police, can authorise the indefinite detention of people it identifies as mentally unstable and potentially dangerous.

“There is a grave danger of this being used to deal with people where there is insufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution,” said Liberty’s Gareth Crossman. “This blurs the line between medical decisions and police actions.”

I think Tony and John need to read about “policing by consent“.

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