UK Liberty

Stop complaining about lost liberties and enjoy the ones we’ve gained

Posted in detention without charge, ID Cards, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on January 11, 2008

Clive Soley in the Guardian:

The proposed terrorism laws are comparatively mild. We should stop complaining about lost liberties and enjoy the ones we have gained.

There is a dangerous fallacy around, fed by a newly resurgent Conservative party,

Those scoundrels.

that Britain under Labour is less free than it used to be. It’s not true.

I am a fully paid up member of Liberty and also of the ever-growing Shami Chakrabarti fan club. She is necessary in any healthy society and ought to be cloned and exported widely.


This, however, does not put her above criticism. She is wrong in saying that Britain is worse than other countries and I nearly made a claim to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on Liberty’s recent advertisement about comparative international incarceration rates for detention without charge. I think she just about stayed within the letter of the ASA code but certainly not the spirit of it.

What stopped him, I wonder? Possibly the notion that Liberty wasn’t in fact wrong?

France locks terror suspects up for anything up to four years

After they have been charged, as the article Soley linked to points out: “Suspects can be held for 48 hours initially, which can be extended by two further periods of 24 hours – four days in total. Under the French system of investigative magistrates, suspects can be held and questioned after they are charged for up to four years before their case is brought to trial”.

Liberty’s advertisement was about pre-charge detention. So what exactly was wrong with Liberty’s advertisement?

and then deports them to beacons of civil liberty like Algeria. The British government’s proposals on detention without charge require a weekly review under the eyes of a judge (not a magistrate as in Europe)

The JCHR said “the existing judicial safeguards for extending even up to 28 days are inadequate because they do not provide a full adversarial hearing or an opportunity to challenge the basis on which someone is being detained”. Despite promises, no additional safeguards have been proposed for 42 day detention.

No, the phrase ‘judicial safeguards’ doesn’t mean much.

and are unlikely to happen more than once a year, if that.

That doesn’t make it right, but it does make a comparison with Europe a bit bizarre.

Notice he hasn’t mentioned the number of times France locks people up for four years and then deports them to Algeria. It is simply fact that France is worse.

The political risk the critics run by overstating their case is that they give a great deal of support to the Tory party, who already relish the sight of a Labour government being described by its supporters as worse than any other. So let’s look at the recent (forgotten) past.

And we mustn’t support the Tory party, must we? No matter what they say or do. God forbid. Even if Labour went around shooting people at random, we mustn’t support anyone other than Labour.

In the 1970s Britain locked up close to 2,000 people for up to two years without charge or trial. That couldn’t happen now.

Why not? Labour has ordered some people to be locked up without charge or trial. It has conceived of a system of ‘control orders’ whereby freedoms are infringed upon without charge or trial. There really is nothing to stop government from locking up other people.

In the 1970s, 80s and early 90s we had internal exile – something we hadn’t seen in Britain since Henry the VIII’s time. People could be prevented from travelling from one part of the UK to another – initially on the signature of the home secretary alone.

Not too much different from some civil orders, whereby the subject can be prohibited from entering particular areas – Labour invented the ASBO (in fairness it isn’t responsible for all civil order related legislation).

Under constant criticism from Labour and other quarters (but not the Liberal Democrat’s, who gave reliable support to the then Tory government on the Prevention of Terrorism Act) John Major’s government finally dropped that part of the act.

And remember the wrongful convictions in Birmingham and Guildford to name but two? At that time there was no recording of police interviews and no contact with solicitors, relatives or friends in the first week of detention. That doesn’t happen now.

As a result of Conservative legislation (PACE 1984).

Now we may record everything but use ‘closed evidence’, in ‘sensitive’ (eg terrorism) cases, which is evidence the suspect isn’t allowed to know about. At least two cases have been affected by mutually contradictory evidence, which only came to light because the same special advocate worked on them. How many other times has this happened? How many times would a suspect have been freed if he was allowed to challenge evidence that is currently kept secret from him? We cannot know.

We do not know about miscarriages of justice until they come to light. That is why it is vital to be as open as possible about the process.

At its height there were around 6,000 people picked up for questioning every year under the old Prevention of Terrorism Act compared to around 1,000 now.

Well, thousands of people are arrested, but tens of thousands are stopped and searched (702 Kb PDF, see page 26) under the Terrorism Act 2000, a Labour invention.

Interesting by the way that the numbers of stops and searches have disappeared from the Home Office security website.

Northern Ireland was the cause of much of that late and unlamented legislation. Republican and Unionist terrorism was a serious threat, but considerably less serious and less difficult to deal with than suicide bombers who fly passenger aircraft into buildings and blow themselves up on the tube.

I don’t think the proposed legislation is workable in its present form

So we should complain about it?

and I don’t understand why we don’t apply continental law to this tiny number of people and hold them

Because common law is better?

– not for as long as the French, German’s and others do – but for a period longer, in exceptional cases, than the present 28 days while questioning continues under judicial supervision. I think Lord Carlisle, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has it about right when he says that Britain’s terror laws are in advance of most other countries.

Well, it depends on what he means by ‘advance’, doesn’t it? We certainly seem to have terror laws that are worse for the suspect than in some other countries, don’t we?

But then we learned from experience.

We should not fall into the trap of agreeing that we have lost liberties when we have gained so many.

Have we lost ‘liberties’, or not? If we have, why is it wrong to agree that we have?

It seems to me we have failed the “town square test”:

If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a “fear society” has finally won their freedom. – Natan Sharansky

Labour introduced the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, s132 of which prohibits demonstrations without authorisation in the vicinity of Parliament. People have been arrested for not only demonstrating in the normal sense of brandishing placards and so on, but also for reading aloud the names of dead people, eating cakes, wearing t-shirts with a particular wording.

Another part of the act, by the way, set up a “region of executive action free of judicial oversight” – the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Neither should we make the mistake of thinking that only middle-class values on liberty matter.

Oh it’s the Polly Toynbee position: poor people have more important things to worry about than civil liberties, so middle-class people shouldn’t worry about civil liberties. Absurd.

Opposition to Asbos and cameras in public places are the classic examples of a misplaced set of standards on civil liberties.

The people I used to represent in high-crime areas actually enjoy the civil liberty of going out with a far lower fear of crime then they did previously.

Do they really? I’d love to see the research.

By the way, some people are opposed to CCTV not so much because they infringe on our liberties but because they infringe upon our liberties without us getting anything in return. I think that if you said to a poor person that CCTV was going to be installed “where it is unlikely to be effective” he would probably say, “I’d much rather have some money off the council tax, thanks”.

Is that, by the way, a ‘civil liberty’, in the normal sense of the term? Is there a ‘civil liberty not to be raped’ or ‘leave the house without fear, or rather is there an obligation on the government to do something about it when a crime is committed?

ID cards, which are common in so many democracies, will make people trafficking more difficult.

Why on earth would they do that? Foreign nationals won’t have British ID cards! Many people volunteer to be trafficked.

Although their advantages are probably overestimated

ie oversold, misrepresented, lied about.

they are not a serious threat to civil liberties in the way that some allege.

The Government’s proposals are indeed ‘a serious threat’, if you consider granting the ability to the government and criminals the ability to control and track our daily lives. I know I do.

There are other civil liberties at risk because we are overly sensitive to some relatively harmless databases. I would happily allow my DNA go on to a database in the knowledge that such a practice would be a significant deterrent to some potential offenders in extreme cases like rape and murder.

Really? Even though you are unaware of the false positives and negatives in the National DNA database and risks with associated systems and procedures?

Seems a bit irrational to support something you are ignorant of.

The civil right of a woman not to be raped is important and easily trumps concerns about possible, undefined misuse of the data. …

Er no, it isn’t as simple as that. Suppose, for example, the test meant that it was 50% likely that you would wrongly be identified as the person who raped the woman. Does her ‘right not to be raped’ outweigh your right not to be wrongly imprisoned?

How far would you go? Would you consent to having CCTV cameras in every room in your home, a tracking chip installed on your body, and an army of surveillance people watching you 24 hours a day, just in case you feel like raping someone? No? Why not? Doesn’t her right not to be raped outweigh your rights?


I take full responsibility but it wasn’t my fault

Posted in accountability, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on January 11, 2008

Peter Hain:

I today met the Electoral Commission and reported £103,156.75 of donations to my deputy leadership campaign that were not registered within the required timescale.

I provided full details to them and was very satisfied with the meeting.

All of the donations were from people entitled to legally donate to my campaign.

I understand that people will ask how I could have allowed this number of donations to go undeclared at the time.

The fact is that during this period, I gave my campaign for office within the Labour party second priority to my government responsibilities [like endorsing donors, see Guido 1 and 2]. I reasonably believed that the arrangements in place for my deputy leader campaign would be sufficient to ensure compliance with reporting requirements, but as it transpired, due to administrative failings this was not the case after early May.

It became necessary to continue fundraising after the campaign ended as a result of unpaid invoices coming to light during the summer and autumn.

Immediately I became aware on November 29 2007 that these donations had not been declared within the required timescale; I took steps to inform the Electoral Commission, issued a public statement and subsequently asked to see the Commission on December 3.

At that time I confirmed my intention to provide a full report as soon as I was satisfied it was complete. I have subsequently kept in touch with the Electoral Commission on progress.

I very much regret that these reports were not made on time. I should have given higher personal priority to the day-to-day administration and organisation of my campaign.

Peter Hain is Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, a department that has its own accounting problems.

It’s fine though, because according to another Labour MP, Martin Linton (Battersea), it’s not “a big deal” and “a fairly modest amount”… “these things can, sadly, happen very easily in politics,” – yes, it is sad that these things seem to happen very easily in politics.