UK Liberty

Surely a contradiction in terms?

Posted in politicians on liberty by ukliberty on February 21, 2008

The Register:

Making the volunteering compulsory is also being considered

Consultation

Posted in state-citizen relationship by ukliberty on February 21, 2008

The Guardian:

On entering the consultation room I saw a man – a real live member of the public – reading one of the questions, and he was frowning. “Hold on,” he said. “This asks ‘To what extent do you agree with the proposal that a third runway at Heathrow, if built, should be supported by associated passenger terminal facilities?'” He looked up, thinking hard. “But I don’t want a third runway at Heathrow,” he said.

Cutting the cost of ‘justice’

Posted in law and order by ukliberty on February 21, 2008

The Times:

Plans are due to go ahead for thousands of trials a year to be prosecuted by non-lawyers, even though the paralegals themselves say that they are insufficiently trained, The Times has learnt.

An internal survey for the Crown Prosecution Service has found that only half the 400 paralegals who will take on the contested — or “not guilty” — trials felt that they had had enough training. A third said that they were under pressure to do court work that fell beyond their abilities.

The draft findings come amid growing concerns about the impact of government cost-cutting on the standards of criminal justice, including the use of junior barristers to defend some of the country’s most high-profile criminal trials.

Both the Bar and the Law Society of England and Wales say that standards in the courts will be undermined by the funding squeeze, which ministers claim is essential for better use of taxpayers’ money.

Of course!  Why on earth should criminals have access to qualified lawyers?  Indeed, why have a trial at all?  Surely the police, CPS and politicians can be trusted to tell us who is and who is not a criminal.

At present the paralegals — “designated case workers” in the Crown Prosecution Service — have power to conduct a limited range of simple cases where defendants plead guilty, chiefly road traffic offences.

But Clause 58 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill now going through Parliament [track it’s progress here] widens their powers to conduct “not guilty” cases, subject to approval by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

This will allow some 400 CPS staff without legal qualifications to conduct a wide range of “not guilty” trials in magistrates’ courts, including those involving theft, assault, applications for bail and antisocial behaviour orders.

The draft report on paralegals, prepared for the CPS, says: “It is of serious concern that varying levels of pressure are being placed on individual DWCs [designated case workers] by courts and other parties to act outside their remit, although in the overwhelming majority of instances this has been successfully resisted.”

The report emphasises that the return rate was low, at 29 per cent, and that the findings should therefore be treated with care.

MSM waking up to secret inquests

Posted in de Menezes, inquest without jury by ukliberty on February 21, 2008

The Telegraph:

… a travesty of justice is threatening our inquests. But the real scandal is not unfolding at the Royal Courts. It is located in the little-noticed Clause 64 of the Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008 before Parliament. This measure gives the Government a virtually free rein to turn inquests into invisible and state-controlled hearings.

Under extraordinary new powers, the Home Secretary could, almost at whim, issue certificates to hold “secret” inquests and appoint a government-vetted coroner.

Families would be excluded from at least some of the proceedings, and a bereaved parent would not be able, like Mr Fayed, to appeal to the good sense of ordinary men and women in returning a verdict on how their loved one died. There would be no jury.

This provision, denounced by civil liberties campaigners, arose not from a James Bond-style assassination, but from the death in 2005 of a 24-year-old Londoner, Azelle Rodney.

We’ve heard little about Azelle Rodney in the news, as an old Guardian article says – an extraordinary story nonetheless.

Mr Rodney, described as wearing a suspiciously large coat [a three quarter length on an overcast day, apparently], was killed by six shots from a Heckler and Koch high-velocity assault rifle fired by a police officer acting on intelligence after a covert surveillance operation. He was alleged to be a gun-carrying drug-dealer, although no proof was produced.

The inquest could not go ahead, because some evidence, presumably of surveillance methods, was deemed too sensitive to set before the coroner.

Read his ruling at the preliminary hearing (150Kb PDF).

Mr Rodney’s mother, Susan Alexander, who has waited for almost three years to discover how her son died, has reportedly been told that the hearing, when it happens, will be subject to the new measures.

Mr Rodney’s case might seem peripheral to your freedoms and mine. But Clause 64 is widely drawn. If your child or partner is a soldier shot down by “friendly fire” in Iraq, or a peaceful protester killed by a police officer at a GM crop site, you might be denied an impartially chosen coroner and a jury.

If another innocent terror suspect, such as Jean Charles de Menezes, is shot by police marksmen, evidence could be heard behind closed doors. Should someone similar to government scientist Dr David Kelly perish under strange circumstances, the Government could take the view that the public has no right to learn the truth at an open and transparent inquest.

No doubt the Home Office would deny any shady motives. It is possible, even likely, that ministers simply hoped to clear up an anomaly and to use their Draconian powers sparingly. But the war on terror corrupts judgment, and oppressive laws, once on the statute book, are at the disposal of bad governments as well as more benign ones.

Campaigning groups, such as Justice and Inquest, are appalled by the measure. The Joint Committee on Human Rights is “astonished” and its chairman, Andrew Dismore MP, is “seriously alarmed”.

At best, this is a terrible muddle, designed to allow intercept evidence to be heard, but at an unacceptable cost. At worst, a measure slipped in with no warning or consultation demolishes a tenet of civilisation.

When someone dies at the hands of the state, or in other public interest cases, the current law requires that the coroner sit with a jury. Family members must be allowed to see and verify that justice endures beyond the grave.

The surveillance state, so eager to scrutinise its living citizens, cannot be allowed to draw a veil over the dead. Of course, there are rare cases in which some material must stay private to protect the national interest. But there are also many options – such as forcing juries to sign the Official Secrets Act, or even security-vetting – that stop short of suppression.

Parliament should dump Clause 64, or tear it apart.

The content and progress of the Counter Terrorism Bill can be tracked using the Parliament website.

“Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done” – Lord Chief Justice Hewart

Proud to be European?

Posted in Uncategorized by ukliberty on February 21, 2008

The Telegraph:

A secret European Parliament report has uncovered “extensive, widespread and criminal abuse” by Euro-MPs of staff allowances worth almost £100 million a year.

Senior Euro-MPs and European Union officials have tried to hush up an internal audit that found severe problems and endemic misuse of funds worth at least £98.4 million a year, more than £125,000 for each of the 785 Euro-MPs.

Such is the extent of the abuse found in a sample group of 167 Euro-MPs that “terrified” parliamentary authorities have shrouded the report in secrecy and security.

Harald Rømer, the secretary-general of the European Assembly, was asked late on Monday night by Hans-Gert Pöttering, its president, and a group of senior Euro-MPs, to take measures to ensure that there was no “collateral damage” from the report.

“We want reform but we cannot make this report available to the public if we want people to vote in the European elections next year,” said a source close to the decision.

Disgusting.