A year in the life of liberty – January to June
Hello readers! I hope you are all well and enjoyed the break.
It’s Obligatory Annual Retrospective Time!
A very long post but a lot happened to liberty last year. Here’s some of what happened from January to June.
Accounting and Expenses
Peter Hain reported £103,156.75 of donations to his deputy leadership campaign “that were not registered within the required timescale”. Derek Conway MP was discovered to have paid his student son a £11,773 salary, plus bonuses totalling £10,000 between September 2005 and May 2007, from Parliamentary expenses.
North Wales Chief Constable David Brunstrom was criticised for calling for the legalisation of drugs.
Due Process and Detention Without Charge
Lord Justice Leveson, the senior presiding judge in England and Wales, criticised the growth of on-the-spot fines and said they risked bringing the law into disrepute. Senior legal figures criticised Gordon Brown’s plans to remove passports in child maintenance cases without having to go to court (this plan was to re-emerge in late 2008). Gordon Brown vowed to press ahead with 42 days detention without charge, and published the Counter-Terrorism Bill, despite a clear consensus against it. Baron Clive Soley suggested “we should stop complaining about lost liberties and enjoy the ones we’ve gained”.
The Government announced new targets for immigration checks and continued to fail to distinguish between EEA and non-EEA foreign nationals. Thankfully NO2ID picked up the slack and pointed out that, while visitors from “three quarters of the world”, as the Home Office put it, would be fingerprinted if they visited us, the vast majority of actual visitors (well over 100 million a year) didn’t require visas and therefore would not be fingerprinted. We discovered via a leaked memo (the National Identity Scheme Options Analysis Outcome) that “Various forms of coercion, such as designation of the application process for identity documents issued by UK ministers (eg, passports) are an option to stimulate applications in a manageable way. … There are advantages to designation of documents associated with particular target groups, eg, young people who may be applying for their first driving licence” – later in the year we would be told that, to their consternation, foreign students and airside workers would be among those first targetted for ‘coercion’ (in the sense of, you won’t be allowed to study or be employed if you don’t bend over).
Articles continued to be written about the huge data losses in late 2007. Defence Secretary Des Brown reported that a probe into the loss of a laptop (stolen from a Royal Navy recruiting officer) with details of 600,000 people had uncovered two similar thefts since 2005. Privacy International labelled the UK as “an endemic surveillance society” and ranked it worst in Europe for the protection of privacy – however, considered on its own, Scotland fared rather better than England and Wales. A female junior doctor suspended by her employers for five years after objecting to her private medical records being given to researchers won a High Court battle forcing her employees to apologise to her in an open court session. Christine Grahame MSP discovered via FOIA requests that the DVLA sold 1.3m records to private companies in 2007 – a 54 per cent increase in five years. We heard that Revenue and Customs set up a “two tier” security system for online tax records giving extra protection to a MPs, royals and other VIPs.
Independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile asked for more detail “as to why additional investigation, or different forms of evidence gathering, might not enable a criminal investigation” in control orders cases, and said that only in rare cases can control orders be justified for more than two years. The Joint Committee on Human Rights revealed that “no individual who has been made the subject of a control order has subsequently been prosecuted for a terrorism offence”.
Due Process and Detention Without Charge
Mr Justice Munby strongly criticised the Home Office for unlawfully detaining a man, SK, for a substantial period of time, having failed to follow not only the law but its own rules: “the melancholy facts that have been exposed as a result of these proceedings are both shocking and scandalous. They are shocking even to those who still live in the shadow of the damning admission by a former Secretary of State that a great Department of State is ‘unfit for purpose’. They are scandalous for what they expose as the seeming inability of that Department to comply not merely with the law but with the very rule of law itself”. There was also the suggestion that SK’s was not an isolated case.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights criticised the Counter-Terrorism Bill and the media started talking about the secret inquests provisions in the Counter-Terrorism Bill.
SpyBlog revealed that the Government refuses to disclose some areas designated for the purposes of stop and search s44 Terrorism Act, despite claiming that s44 is a “useful deterrent”, which made us all wonder about how we could be deterred by something we were unaware of.
The Court of Appeal handed down a rather more strict interpretation of s57 Terrorism Act than the Government liked, and freed five young Muslim men on the basis that there was no proof of terrorist intent just because they had particular literature in their possession. The Court of Appeal also ruled that Lotfi Raissi was allowed to appeal for compensation from the Government on the grounds that false allegations were made against him, that evidence was not disclosed to him, and that he had been unlawfully detained in an “abuse of process” by the CPS and police. David Miliband confirmed that Diego Garcia had been used for rendition, and apologised that the Government claimed previously that it hadn’t.
The Government pressed ahead with plans for thousands of trials a year to be prosecuted by non-lawyers, even though the paralegals themselves claimed that they are insufficiently trained for it. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith proposed that assets should be confiscated from suspected drug dealers on arrest, and only returned if the suspect was “completely innocent”, proving she doesn’t appreciate the concept of the presumption of innocence, which is great given that she is in charge of the legal system and the police.
A European Parliament report uncovered “extensive, widespread and criminal abuse” by Euro-MPs of staff allowances worth almost £100 million a year. European Parliamentary authorities urged that it be kept secret on the grounds that people would not vote in the next European elections. British MPs criticised the decision to supress the report. But the Information Tribunal ruled that our own MP’s expenses system (Additional Costs Allowance) was “deeply unsatisfactory” and urged more openness.
It was revealed that conversations between Sadiq Khan MP and his imprisoned constituent Babar Ahmad had been taped between 2005 and 2006 by the police, and that police may have eavesdropped on conversations between hundreds of lawyers and their clients.
A Home Office disc containing confidential information was found underneath the keyboard of a laptop sold on eBay and the CPS lost a disc containing the personal information of 2,000 suspects. Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said of a national DNA database that it was not a “silver bullet” and it would raise practical as well as civil liberties issues.
A row over a parking space led to the death of a pensioner (the victim’s address had been obtained from a police officer), two defendants were convicted of manslaughter, and the police officer resigned and was fined £1,200 under the Data Protection Act. The Centre for Social Cohesion’s report, Crimes of the Community, documented several instances when young women fled honour-based violence in the family home, only to be tracked down via informal family networks spanning taxi services, the police and civil servants, often using national databases used by public sector workers.
Opening a second front in the War on Inquests, Defence Secretary Des Browne went to the High Court to attempt to prevent coroners from criticising the Ministry of Defence.
The Government announced plans to make schoolchildren take part in citizenship ceremonies as part of wide-ranging proposals aimed at appealing to patriotism.
British Bill of Obligations and Privileges Rights and Responsibilities
The Government starts sending out Ministers to push the idea of a new British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, and Jack Straw kicks off by demonstrating his misunderstanding of Thomas Paine.
Some teachers warned that schools were becoming “Orwellian societies” with CCTV cameras monitoring the behaviour of teachers and students.
Some Lords started blogging at Lords of the Blog and do rather well at it too.
The Commons voted against the Conservative’s proposal to hold a UK-wide referendum on whether to ratify the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, by 311 votes to 248. Three frontbench LibDems resigned their positions over their leadership’s decision to vote against the proposal.
Some MPs demanded higher salaries to compensate for the scrapping of (some of) their perks and allowances, claiming that they would be unable to afford 42″ plasma screens for their second homes if they didn’t receive £40,000 extra in their pay packet.
The OGC began its High Court appeal against the disclosure of the ID Cards Programme Gateway Reviews, using the Bill of Rights 1689 as a central argument in its legal battle to prevent Gateway reviews becoming public. The Crosby Report, commissioned by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor, is buried under the fuss about a lack of referendum for the Lisbon Treaty – the report implicitly says the Government’s plans are rubbish, and all about the Government when they should be about the ‘consumer’. The Scottish Government makes clear its opposition to the UK ID card scheme… but presses ahead with a bus pass / entitlement card with – yes – a central database containing lots of personal information!
It was revealed that the Ministry of Defence lost 11,000 military ID cards in the last two years.
The organisations that have access to the Police National Computer were revealed… Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?!
The JHCR’s Fourteenth Report said recent data losses were “symptomatic of the Government’s failure to take safeguards sufficiently seriously”, that “there is insufficient respect in the public sector for the right to respect for personal data”, that they “fundamentally disagree with the Government’s approach to data sharing legislation, which is to include very broad enabling provisions in primary legislation and to leave the data protection safeguards to be set out later in secondary legislation”, and that they “are surprised, and disappointed, to find that senior public officials need to be reminded of the main principles of the Data Protection Act”. It was revealed that the security services wanted to data mine public transport databases (such as Oyster) rather than be limited to specific records. Britain’s “senior forensics expert” called for children as young as five to be enrolled on the DNA database if they exhibited.
The European Court of Human Rights unanimously endorsed the approach in Chahal v UK, confirming that when there is a real risk of torture or inhumane treatment we may not deport – also confirming that the UK Government’s intervention in the case – Saadi v Italy – was a waste of time and our money.
Peter Neyroud, the chief executive of the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), and former chief constable of Thames Valley, informs the Commons home affairs select committe that the police are developing a national database of mugshots.
Detention without Charge
The Equality and Human Rights Commission threatened to challenge in court the Government’s plans for 42 day detention without charge if adopted. A leaked list compiled by Labour whips reveals over 50 MPs who planned to vote against or abstain from a 42 days vote, including 10 former ministers, with a further 44 MPs undecided. It also said that some MPs disagreed with the Government’s plan but would vote for it anyway (and indeed Austin Mitchell was one of a number who was to do just that). Somehow it is revealed that Minister of Justice Jack Straw is also privately against the plan but will vote with the Government. Former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith claimed the case had not been made out for extension and that he could not personally support it.
Sir Ken Macdonald, then Director of Public Prosecutions, told MPs that prosecutors were managing “comfortably within 28 days” and that it was “a question for parliament whether this is directed against a real problem or not”.
The High Court found that freezing orders made using the Treasury’s powers to freeze suspects’ bank accounts – introduced by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor, via an Order in Council and thereby bypassing Parliament – were unlawful. One of the designees sought clarification from the Treasury on whether he could buy three new pairs of shoes: smart shoes, trainers and hiking boots. The Treasury failed to answer the question for some time, deeming it so complex as to require advice from a minister.
The High Court found that a control order is incompatible with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair trial) in circumstances where they have resulted in the case made against the controlee “being in its essence entirely undisclosed to him and in no specific allegation of terrorism-related activity being contained in open material”. The Joint Committee on Human Rights published a rather critical report on control orders and recommended a number of changes, but of course the Government didn’t admit to any failures despite adverse court rulings.
The High Court also found that the Government’s changes in 2006 to the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme were unlawful for those migrants already here. The Government were warned that this would happen by a number of interested parties prior to the changes being made, but of course they pressed ahead anyway and ruined a number of lives. Liam Byrne MP, the Minister responsible for this debacle, was of course promoted later on in the year.
The High Court also found that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) acted unlawfully by dropping a corruption inquiry into a £43bn Saudi arms deal (this was later overturned by the Law Lords).
Violent Offender Orders made it to the statute book.
Four months after the Lisbon Treaty was signed, in December 2007, the EU published a consolidated version. Of course by then a number of other interested parties had given up waiting and published their own consolidated versions.
The High Court quashed a decision by the Information Tribunal that early gateway reviews on the ID card scheme should be published.
Tony McNulty revealed to the Home Affairs Committee that there has been no cost benefit analysis of the ID cards scheme. (He also told them that the Home Secretary isn’t a politician.)
Sir Bobby Robson’s electronic medical records were viewed illicitly by NHS staff when he required treatment for a brain tumour. A memo internal to Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust but leaked said that “Over the last few weeks the ongoing security reports relating to the access by staff to the PAS (patient administration system) system and to the Casenote Tracker module has identified inappropriate access which has resulted in a formal disciplinary investigation and written warnings being issued to a number of trust staff who have accessed patients’ information for no other reason than personal curiosity”.
We start hearing more and more in the mainstream media about the proposals to store every detail except the content in relation to our telecommunications (phone calls, emails, internet use, etc).
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told the News of the World that British intelligence was pursuing 30 different plots involving the tracking of 2,000 people in 200 networks. Critics pointed out that these figures were no higher than two years ago and did not appear to contain new information.
A report from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust suggested elections in the UK fall short of international standards and that measures to improve choice for voters – such as postal and electronic voting – risked the integrity of the electoral process. The Government therefore suggested yet another giant database.
Metropolitan Police Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville told us that “Billions of pounds has been spent on [CCTV] kit, but no thought has gone into how the police are going to use the images and how they will be used in court. It’s been an utter fiasco: only 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV.
A “drugs criminal” escaped an order to have up to £4.5 million of his assets confiscated because no qualified barrister would take on his case for legal aid. The criminal himself could not pay pay a barrister because his assets had been frozen and the burden (under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002) was on him to prove that he had gained them legitimately.
The Law Lords found that changes to rules in relation to foreign doctors were unlawful because they went against the legitimate expectations of the foreign doctors already here.
Freedom of Information
The High Court dismssed the Commons appeal against the Information Tribunal’s judgement that the Commons had to release details of MPs’s expenses: “The expenditure of public money through the payment of MPs’ salaries and allowances is a matter of direct and reasonable interest to taxpayers”. The Court noted “that 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 Commons Members Estimates Committee said it would not seek leave to appeal against the ruling. It was later revealed that some of Tony Blair’s expense claims had been shredded “by mistake”, which was lucky because to do it deliberately would constitute an offence under such circumstances.
The Department of Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) (formerly the Department of Trade and Industry) lost an appeal to keep secret its meetings with business lobbying group the Confederation of British Industry.
Lecturers voted to oppose and defy the government’s plans to introduce identity cards at the University and College annual congress in Manchester.
It was revealed that, between 2005 and 2007, more than 600 HMRC staff had been disciplined for illegitimately accessing personal or sensitive data.
A teenage male demonstrated outside the Church of Scientology’s London HQ with a placard that claimed “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult”. City of London police swung into action after reading it, a police officer claimed that he was not allowed to use the word cult and ordered him to remove the placard from the scene. He refused to do so and thirty minutes later was handed a section 5 Public Order Act 1986 notice claiming that his sign “commits an offence”. Of course it was not the sign but he who was threatened with prosecution, eventually not proceeded with.
A week or so later, the incident was repeated in Strathclyde, where the police ordered a number of protesters to take down banners that used the word cult to describe Scientology.
A protester against the arms trade lost a legal challenge against police powers of surveillance. He had claimed they had breached his human rights by photographing, questioning, and following him even though he had not broken any law, and it was deterring him from attending future protests. The judge said he was being “unduly sensitive”.
Protestors on the night of the London mayoral count found themselves stopped and searched by police and photographed and followed by Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT).
The taxpayer gave £100,000 to Channel 4 after West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service apologised at the High Court for accusing the makers of Undercover Mosque of distortion. Nearly a year after the initial furore, six months after Ofcom uneqivocally rejected the claims about the programme, and two weeks after the settlement, Private Eye pointed out that CPS reviewing lawyer Bethan David and West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Constable Anil Patani (Security and Cohesion), two people at the forefront of this ridiculous ‘investigation’, continued to retain their positions.
Detention without Charge
The Government won the 42 days vote with a majority of 9. Coincidentally, 9 DUP MPs voted with the Government, so there was some speculation as to what deal Gordon Brown made with the DUP. Diane Abbot asked “is it right that our civil liberties should be traded in such a bazaar?” Austin Mitchell MP voted for 42 days in order to “save Gordon Brown for the nation”.
The episode provoked Shadow Home Secretary David Davis to resign as an MP, forcing a by-election, which he was to win. He made civil liberties the centre of his campaign to be re-elected. Labour declined to stand a candidate against him. Kelvin MacKenzie of the Sun made some noise about standing but did not.
Equality Minister Harriet Harman defended controversial plans to encourage firms to discriminate in favour of female and ethnic minorities job candidates.
We learned that healthcare workers and other public sector workers (including police and job centre staff) were breaching confidentiality rules and passing on personal information to familes from whom young women were fleeing in order to escape forced marriages and so-called ‘honour’ punishments.
The Government lost the vote for its proposals to have inquests without juries and specially appointed coroners.
The Government abandoned its plans to have scanners at every London Underground station and mainline train station in the country, saying that today’s technology meant it was infeasible and passengers would not accept the delays caused. Of course, before they had even embarked on the first trials they had been advised by experts and public alike that this would be the conclusion. Never mind, it only cost a few million.