UK Liberty

MPs’ addresses

Posted in accountability, freedom of information, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on May 23, 2008

Recently in the Commons:

I hesitate to take up the House’s time by further referring to the issue of Members’ private home addresses being published, but this is one of the few opportunities available to me to develop the argument, which I shall do in detail.

Every hon. Member has a few special skills, some of which are more valuable than others. I have very few special skills, one of which is particularly rarefied—I have an understanding of the way in which extremists’ minds work. Were I an extremist, I would be cheering on the freedom of information campaigners who are urging, for misguided reasons, that the private home addresses of Members of this House should be made public in an easily accessible form.

I don’t know of any freedom of information campaigners who are urging that private home addresses of MPs be made public. As far as I am aware none of them care about addresses in themselves.

The first issue about addresses is that they shouldn’t be used to prevent the disclosure of MPs’ expenses; the second is that the system as it stands means we need some way of determining what is spent on the primary home and what is spent on the secondary home.

Read the judgement:

None of this is intended to suggest that the disclosure of an individual’s private address under FOIA does not require justification. In the present case, however, there was a legitimate public interest well capable of providing such justification. Thus, for example, there is evidence which suggests that one MP claimed ACA for a property which did not exist, and yet further evidence may demonstrate that on occasions MPs claiming ACA were letting out the accommodation procured from the ACA allowance.

The court and the Tribunal were as one:

Having closely examined the privacy issue, not only as it related to the MPs claiming ACA, but also to anyone living with them, the Tribunal concluded that “the ACA system is so deeply flawed, the shortfall in accountability is so substantial, and the necessity of full disclosure so convincingly established, that only the most pressing privacy needs should in our view be permitted to prevail“. It may be that the system will be revised, and subject to much more robust checking to ensure, for example, that the addresses to which ACA relates do in fact exist, and that the claims for them are within the scheme and not excessive. If so, the case for specific disclosure of such addresses may be rather less powerful.


We recognise that if the arrangements for oversight and control of the ACA system were to change, then the issues of the privacy and security of MPs and their families might lead to a different conclusion to the one reached by the Tribunal. The Tribunal was required to act on the evidence available to it, and make its judgment accordingly. If the question were to arise again, the Commissioner, and if necessary the Tribunal, again, would have to make whatever decision was appropriate in the light of changed circumstances. Equally we cannot interfere with the Tribunal’s decision on the basis of what the appropriate outcome might be if the Tribunal were not addressing the deeply flawed system which the Tribunal believed had “so convincingly established” the necessity of full disclosure which included the addresses to which the ACA forms applied.

Seems eminently reasonable.

Perhaps concern about their addresses will influence MPs such as Julian Lewis to improve the ACA system.

Julian Lewis has “put in freedom of information requests asking for the private home addresses of High Court judges in general”. What is the point?  They have a strong claim for privacy based on security, as do many MPs.

(see also BBC)

Control Order appeal fails

Posted in control orders by ukliberty on May 23, 2008

AH v Secretary of State for the Home Department.

The background is particularly interesting – it is the case where the suspected terrorist was charged with terrorism offences, acquitted of all charges, then issued with a control order on the steps of the court:

AH is an Iraqi national, who first arrived in the United Kingdom on 21st July 2000 and claimed asylum. His claim was refused on 30th October 2001, but he was granted four years exceptional leave to remain. He travelled to Iraq in June 2004 and returned to the United Kingdom in September 2004.

On 26th January 2005 he was detained pending deportation to Iraq. He appealed to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. The Secretary of State withdrew his decision to deport AH on 23rd November 2005 and he was released from immigration detention. As he left prison, he was arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 and charged with terrorism offences. He was tried at Woolwich Crown Court in August 2006.

On 29th August 2006, he was acquitted of all charges. On 31st July 2006, the Secretary of State applied for permission to make a non-derogating Control Order. Permission was granted by Sullivan J on the same date. The order was served on AH on the day of his acquittal.

The order was renewed on 27th July 2007 and modified to correct an error on 31st July 2007. On 17th April 2008, the obligations in the Control Order were significantly relaxed.

In these proceedings, AH challenges the Secretary of State’s decision to make the first Control Order by way of a review under Section 3(10), appeals against the Secretary of State’s decision to renew the Control Order under Section 10(1) and appeals against the Secretary of State’s refusal to revoke the Control Order on the 26th September 2007 under Section 10(3)(a).

The issue in each case is whether or not the decision of the Secretary of State was flawed: Section 3(10) and (10)(4)(a). The review of and appeal against the making and renewal of the Control Order are not academic: criminal proceedings have been undertaken against AH, for breaches of the order, which will lapse if the orders are quashed; and the continuance of the order in its varied form depends upon the lawfulness of the original and renewed order.

Yet again some interesting points about closed material and the fairness of the hearing, and a question as to whether or not the obligations constitute a deprivation of liberty (they do not).  AH also claimed Article 3 (prohibition of torture) is engaged – the judge said that wasn’t “remotely arguable”.

“the Secretary of State’s decision to make, renew and continue the Order are not flawed. … I uphold the making and renewal of the Control Order and dismiss the appeal against renewal and the Secretary of State’s refusal to abrogate it.

Big Brother is overstretched

Posted in database state, surveillance society by ukliberty on May 23, 2008

Phil Hendren (aka Dizzy) in The Times:

The Government is planning to introduce a giant database that will hold the details of every phone call we have made, every e-mail we have sent and every webpage we have visited in the past 12 months. This is needed to fight crime and terrorism, the Government claims.

The Orwellian nature of this proposal cannot be overstated. However, there is one saving grace for people who fear for their civil liberties. The probability of the project ever seeing the light of day is close to zero. This proposal – like so many grandiose government IT schemes before it – is technologically unfeasible. …

anti-Scientology protestor will not be prosecuted

Posted in control freakery, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, law and order by ukliberty on May 23, 2008

background

The Guardian:

A teenager who was facing legal action for calling the Church of Scientology a cult has today been told he will not be taken to court.

The Crown Prosecution Service ruled the word was neither “abusive or insulting” to the church

Well hang on, isn’t that for the ‘church’ to decide? That is yet another silly thing about such cases: how can the CPS decide what is and what is not insulting to me?

and no further action would be taken against the boy. …

A file was passed to the CPS, which today told City of London police it would not be pursuing the boy through the courts.

A spokeswoman for the force said: “The CPS review of the case includes advice on what action or behaviour at a demonstration might be considered to be threatening, abusive or insulting.

“The force’s policing of future demonstrations will reflect this advice.”

A CPS spokesman said: “In consultation with the City of London police, we were asked whether the sign, which read ‘Scientology is not a religion it is a dangerous cult’, was abusive or insulting.

“Our advice is that it is not abusive or insulting and there is no offensiveness, as opposed to criticism, neither in the idea expressed nor in the mode of expression. No action will be taken against the individual.” …

Fundamentally neither the CPS nor the police should not be determining the acceptability of words. We are in a stupid situation with this catch-all law.

Did the boy harm anyone or cause someone to come to harm or was someone likely to come to harm as a result of his actions? No? Then leave him alone.

Protest surveillance challenge part II

Posted in freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, law and order, surveillance society by ukliberty on May 23, 2008

Earlier this month there was a “legal bid to challenge the power of the police to use surveillance against peaceful protesters.”

In short the challenge failed:

The judgement is on Bailii.

It seems the police had a reasonable suspicion unlawful activity might occur at the AGM in question:

“EA”, a member of CAAT until 2003, who had a history of unlawful activity against organisations involved in the defence industry and had been convicted of a number of offences in that context.

EA was later ejected from the meeting after chanting some slogans.

But the claimant in this case (Andrew Wood) was not involved in any disturbance, asked “one unobjectionable question”, and “left the meeting as soon as formal business was over”, in the company of a CAAT employee, and they both talked to a leafleter outside – someone who had been peacefully leafleting outside the venue after consulting with the police, and who likewise had not engaged in any unlawful activity.

A civilian photographer emerged from a police vehicle and took some photographs – there is a dispute over how many were taken, and how near he approached. A police sergeant stated that he wanted to establish the identity of the claimant, and that the claimant and EA were in the same group – the claimant does not recall the presence of EA.

Then,

The Claimant and Mr. Prichard walked away from the hotel towards an Underground railway station. They were followed by officers from the EG team. The Claimant says that a police vehicle pulled up near to him and Mr. Prichard and about four officers came and stood near to them. The Claimant was asked for his identity, as was Mr. Prichard. Mr. Prichard identified himself, but the Claimant asked whether he was obliged to do so and, on being told he was not, declined to answer. They both refused to answer questions about the AGM. They were told that they were free to leave the scene and that they were not being detained, although two officers then followed them to the station, trying at one stage to get the assistance of railway staff to obtain the Claimant’s identity from the Claimant’s travel document.

Now, I don’t believe it would be unreasonable to think these activities, considered together, would intimidate Joe Public, and thereby constitute an interference with his Convention rights.

Indeed,

The Claimant says that he felt scared and intimidated by the events in issue. He also says that the incident was “extremely upsetting” and that he “felt shaken and frightened as a result”. He says that he feels very uncomfortable that information may be kept about him indefinitely and may be used without his consent or knowledge. The Defendant, through Counsel, accepts that the Claimant may have felt “unsettled” by what occurred. However, the Claimant relies on his unchallenged evidence to the effect that I have just outlined, asserting that the incident was more than just “unsettling” so far as he was concerned.

So any dispute, it seems to me, would be over whether this activity was proportionate (there’s that word again).

19. On those facts the following issues now arise:

i) Whether the taking of the photographs of the Claimant constituted an interference with his rights under Article 8(1) of the ECHR [right to respect for private and family life];
ii) Whether the retention and potential use of the photographs constituted such an interference;
iii) If there was such an interference in either case, whether it was justified and, in particular, whether it was (a) in accordance with the law and (b) proportionate;
iv) Whether there was interference with the Claimant’s rights under Articles 10 [freedom of expression] and/or 11 [freedom of assembly and association] of the ECHR and, if so, whether it was justified; and
v) Whether there was a breach of Article 14 of the ECHR [prohibition of discrimination] and, if so, whether that was justified.

Do read the judgement, as it seems carefully reasoned, but I will attempt to fairly summarise the conclusions.

In relation to Article 8, the judge said it seemed to him that “there was no interference with the Claimant’s rights under Article 8(1) by the taking and retention of these photographs”, but “if there was an interference with the Claimant’s rights under Article 8(1) it was in accordance with the law and proportionate for the purposes of Article 8(2) of the Convention.”

In relation to Articles 10 and 11, there seems to be no dispute about whether or not there was an interference at the AGM itself (there was not) – it is what happened after that: “The Claimant alleges that the police conduct had an intimidating effect on him which tended to inhibit his willingness to exercise such rights in the future.”

The judge said, “I cannot accept that the actions of the police here amounted to an interference with either of these Convention rights. As already mentioned in another context, the provisions of the Convention are not designed for the protection of the unduly sensitive.”

But is someone “unduly sensitive” if they are intimidated by such actions? I don’t believe so – I believe the majority of people would find such actions intimidating. I don’t believe they would be “unduly sensitive” – it is just a normal and expected reaction.

Well, the judge disagrees: the actions of the police were “sufficiently justified”.

Lastly there is no engagement of Article 14:

The Claimant alleges that he was discriminated against in comparison with other persons who were present on this occasion and others attending the AGM. However, the reasons why the police took the photographs and acted as they did were not relevant to those others. The police actions were not taken because of the Claimant’s political beliefs or because of his attendance at the meeting to exercise freedom of speech or his rights of assembly; they were taken for the reasons already identified which did not apply to those attending the meeting generally.