UK Liberty


Posted in law and order, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on October 26, 2008

Rob Marris (PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office; Wolverhampton South West, Labour) | Hansard source | Watch this

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is inconsistent and unprincipled for Conservatives such as Mr. Grieve and David Davis, as well as organisations such as Liberty, to seek to clothe themselves in the Magna Carta and civil liberties while, conversely, they propose alternative diminutions of civil liberties, such as post-charge questioning, the use of intercept evidence at trial and 42 days’ detention under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004? Is not that wholly unprincipled?

Jacqui Smith (Surveillance Secretary; Redditch, Labour) | Hansard source | Watch this

If I have taken one thing from our discussions on the Bill, it has been my hon. Friend’s incisive critique at every stage. I thank him for his engagement and wholeheartedly agree with his point.

Well, they are both wrong then.  Neither Grieve, Davis, Liberty, nor others (nor I), argued we must never ever infringe on liberty.

What is disputed is the proportionality and necessity of any proposal, and the weighing up of alternatives.

On the freezing of Iceland

Posted in law and order by ukliberty on October 26, 2008

Following up on This may come as a surprise, an article briefly outlining why we should be careful about what legislation says as well as what Ministers promise – the example being the use against Iceland of the asset freezing measures in (s4) Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 – I came across this in a recent debate (on the Counter Terrorism Bill, as it happens):

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs; Liberal Democrat) | Hansard source

This amendment is aimed to probe exactly what is caught within the scope of the legislation that the Government are using to make the freezing orders. Laid before the House at the moment is also the Landsbanki Freezing Order 2008, which we may well debate later. For today, I want to take the Chamber back to the original legislation that the Government passed in order to progress the freezing of assets in cases of terrorism, which was of course the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. That Act was passed in 2001 in a hurry as emergency legislation in response to the 11 September attack. As emergency legislation, that Bill was hardly debated in the Commons, as MPs have subsequently pointed out on several occasions—for example, in the other place on 25 February 2004 at col. 312. David Blunkett’s explanation of the asset-freezing powers at the time, however, was quite clear:

“The emergency legislation will build on the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Bill to deal specifically with terrorist finance through monitoring and freezing the accounts of suspected terrorists”.—[Hansard, Commons, 15/8/01; col. 923.]

In other words, it was quite clear when they were brought in that these powers were intended for use against terrorists, and we supported them at that time.

In this House there was a little more scrutiny, and Members asked the Minister why there was no explicit reference to terrorism in the drafting of the clause. When she was so challenged, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, insisted that the reason why there was no direct mention of terrorism was that,

“it is not possible to separate out the matters in a practical sense because the other crimes are the source of revenue for terrorists”.

She also said:

“The Government do not believe that it is possible to define terrorism in a way that would distinguish it from activities related to it”.—[Hansard, 3/9/01; col. 600.]

In other words, the powers were meant to tackle terrorism; they could not be defined too closely but were certainly supposed to tackle crimes connected with terrorism.

The problem that the Government have had in recent weeks is that there was no intention on the part of those supporting this legislation that it should be used in matters economic, so that the Government might in this way freeze the assets of another country’s bank, as in the case of Landsbanki. I have tabled this new clause so that the Committee can discuss the principle at stake here. Parliament has provided very serious new powers on terrorism since 2001, and this is one example of where such a power is being used somewhat differently from the way we envisaged. Whether the Government were right, in economic terms, to take the action they did is a different question. The question here is whether we should be using terrorism legislation and associated legislation to achieve a very different end.

At this stage, this is a probing amendment to try to make sure that the Government are quite clear under what legislation and to what ends they will be using these powers. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart came up with a good hypothetical example:

Lord Goodhart (Liberal Democrat) | Hansard source

I would like to take a little further the argument that has just been put forward by my noble friend and look at the important question of how the courts would, or will, interpret Section 4 of the 2001 Act if the order relating to the Icelandic bank is brought forward. It is very difficult to read Section 4 of the 2001 Act as it stands as applying to purely economic matters. For example, if a foreign country, perfectly understandably and legitimately, bans the import of British beef on the grounds of foot and mouth disease or mad cow disease, that would unquestionably be an act to the detriment of the United Kingdom’s economy. I cannot imagine any court interpreting that order banning the export of British cattle as being within the operation of Section 4.

The Government have to face the fact that if Section 4 in its present form comes in front of a court, there will be great difficulty in interpreting it. It is perfectly possible that that court might come to the conclusion that the use of these powers in the present circumstances against the Icelandic bank was not, in fact, a legitimate use of Section 4. The Government will have to consider not only what Section 4 should mean but what it in fact means now.

Worth reading Lord West’s response.

The language of official disapproval

Posted in ID Cards, politicians on liberty, surveillance society by ukliberty on October 26, 2008

Henry Porter in the Guardian:

The language of the new era of official disapproval and control is worth monitoring. “Disappointing” was a word applied to many of us at school, and it still contains that note of sorrowful condescension when deployed by politicians, who use it to describe the unworthiness of their subject as well their own moral and intellectual superiority.

It appeared on Tuesday in a letter to the Daily Telegraph from the former home secretary David Blunkett who wrote, complaining about the paper’s columnist Mary Riddell, “… it was disappointing to read her repeating the economically illiterate, but often quoted suggestion that, by abandoning ID cards, there could be massive savings.”

He went on to argue that the bulk of the expenditure for operating an ID card system will be taken care of by the existing plans for biometric visas and passports. This is far from the truth. The ID card will cost us upwards of £5bn, and as taxpayers and individuals we will all benefit when it is scrapped.

To use his word, it was disappointing that David Blunkett did not mention in his letter that up until recently he was the paid adviser of the US systems company Entrust, which has pitched for the British ID card. …

Also worth noting that David Blunkett resigned twice from Government under a cloud.

Victoria Climbié and ContactPoint

Posted in surveillance society by ukliberty on October 26, 2008

Can we please get over the idea that ContactPoint would have helped Victoria Climbié?

There was no shortage of information about Victoria. There was a chronic lack of wisdom and judgement in interpreting the information that was already available.

Victoria’s case demonstrates just how difficult it can be to pick up on abuse. It would be far better to concentrate the limited resources available on retention of experienced child and family practitioners and on thorough investigation of children already known to social services, rather than flooding an over-stretched system with low-level data about every child (up to 50% of the child population) who might need services.


Posted in party funding by ukliberty on October 26, 2008

Aaron Heath on the latest Tory funding scandal:

Of course all parties are equally guilty. Labour have little reason to be proud. And the Lib Dems? Don’t get me started. They’re pretty much all as bad as each other. The entire system is fucked.

Of course those with a stake in the system will explain how this justifies public funding of political parties.

(Such as Denis MacShane.)

I think this sleaze actually proves just how illegitimate the ‘big’ parties have become. If people are not interested in becoming members or donating to political parties, what’s the point of their very existence?

Francis Maude (Horsham, Conservative) said the other day,

Democracy requires there to be political parties

That’s arguable, but it certainly doesn’t require the ones we have at present, that’s for sure.