UK Liberty

A year in the life of liberty – July to December

Posted in everything by ukliberty on January 9, 2009

The second part of my look back at liberty in 2008.

July

Arrest by firearms officers

An innocent commuter mistakenly detained at gunpoint filed an official complaint over his arrest after it emerged that he did not match the description of the armed suspect police had been seeking.

Bribes

The Law Lords found that the Serious Fraud Office acted lawfully in stopping an inquiry into bribery allegations during an arms deal between Saudi Arabia and BAE Systems, overturning the High Court’s April judgement.

Criminal Records

The Information Commissioner, on the behalf of some complainants, challenged the Chief Constables of several forces in relatoin to their retention of data on the Police National Computer.  The Information Tribunal found that “in each of the cases the conviction information was irrelevant and excessive for the purposes for which it was held and had been retained for longer than necessary”.  This prompted fear that “tens of thousands of criminal records could be deleted after a landmark ruling that police were breaking rules on the holding of personal details”, and the police said that “the ruling might put an end to the wider collection of data, brought in after the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, Cambridgeshire, which was designed to increase the chances of catching criminals”.  Of course it had little if anything to do with murderers – the records challenged related to offences such as stealing a packet of meat worth 99p at age 16, or attempted theft (metal blanks inserted into arcade machine) and criminal damage at age 15.

Curfew

A youth curfew was introduced by police in Redruth, Cornwall.  Any parents not participating in the ‘voluntary’ scheme were threatened with ‘parenting orders’.

David Davis

He won the by-election.  To some, this was hardly a surprise as he was in a safe seat.  To others, it vindicated his stance on civil liberties.  The mainstream media didn’t seem particularly interested, except for those that sneered at his resignation and campaign, of course.

de Menezes

The Metropolitan Police Authority  published their Stockwell Scrutiny roughly around the third anniversary of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.  They said that “there are still a number of unanswered questions, the response to which will only become public when the Coroner’s Inquest into the death starts in September 2008. Whilst recognising that due process needs to be followed, it cannot be right that three years later, there is still no definitive account of what happened on 22 July 2005”. 

Detention without Charge

28 days Detention without Charge was renewed (s25 of the Terrorism Act 2005 being subject to a sunset clause).  The Joint Committee on Human Rights said that “once again the Government has failed to provide sufficient information to allow us to ascertain whether the power to detain people without charge for up to 28 days is necessary”, noting that “No suspect has been held for more than 14 days since the renewal of the power last year”, and that there was no information as to “whether those charged after being detained for more than 14 days could have been charged any earlier”. They also noted that “the Government did not publish the report of the statutory reviewer of the operation of the Terrorism Act in time to allow the House of Commons and its Committees properly to consider it prior to debate on the draft Order”.

Guantanamo Bay detainee  Binyam Mohamed’s legal representatives argued before the High Court that the UK Foreign Office should be compelled to turn over evidence necessary to his defense before a US military commission. The evidence sought allegedly showed that Mohamed was the victim of torture and extraordinary rendition.

Drugs

Two bodies set up by the Government to advise the Government on drugs – the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the UK Drug Policy Commission – were ignored by the Government after they disagreed with the Government, saying that the War on Drugs wasn’t working and that drugs should classified and treated differently.

Freedom of Information

Simon Blackmore was being pursued for £6,057 in tax credits by the HMRC.  He obtaine from the HMRC documents, screen grabs and tapes of telephone conversations that showed “a snapshot of a system on the brink of chaos”. Faced with the evidence that Software glitches caused a series of errors on Blackmore’s files, including the wrong income details and the removal of his six-year-old daughter from some of the assessments, HMRC told Blackmore that they would stop their pursuit.

ID Cards

The Home Office made a rather bizarre attempt at consulting “the youth” about ID cards, launching a site called mylifemyid.org. Said youths thought it was “patronising guff” and that the results would be spun anyway.

The Trade Union Congress wrote to the Home Secretary and said of the introduction of ID cards for airside workers that, “the move has significant civil liberties’ implications; that it would not be cost effective, and indeed, appears to impose additional burdens on business and employees with no measurable security benefit.“”

Mental Health

A survey suggested that a fifth of MPs have suffered mental health problems at some time. I didn’t say anything.

Petitions

Commons leader Harriet Harman said MPs would be asked to give the go-ahead in the autumn to an e-petition system.  She said petitions “would be subject to checks and filters”, with an MP – normally the petitioners’ local one – acting as facilitator for each one, which prompted speculation as to what sort of checks and filters there would be. 

Property

Coastal landowners faced the prospect of having portions of their land seized without compensation in the drive to create a coastal path around the entirety of Britain.

Privacy

An investigation by the National Aids Trust has uncovered six cases of discrimination against children as young as four after their HIV status was disclosed or discovered. They began the investigation after learning that parents looking for new schools were told their children were not welcome after they revealed the diagnosis.  Head teachers have told parents of affected children that other teachers, parents and even dinner ladies would need to be told of their confidential medical status. A child who did not know about her condition was made aware of it by a teacher. She was later bullied and left the school.

Max Mosley sued and won against News Group Newspapers Ltd, publishers of News of the World, on the grounds of breach of confidence and/or the unauthorised disclosure of personal information (engaging Article 8 of the ECHR). Colin Myler, editor of the News of the World, and Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, parading us our moral guardians, whinged about how the decision infringed on their right to have people invade homes and report (with embellishments and ‘factual inaccuracies’) on what consenting adults got up to in private.  Even former Archbishop Lord George Carey waded in, writing an article for News of the Screws that showed his ignorance of legal matters. Some commentators even suggested that Mosley didn’t deserve the protection of the law because of the activities he was engaged in (dressing up and spanking).

Protest

Nine peaceful protesters involved with the NO2ID campaign were arrested for “breach of the peace” at a meeting between Home Office Minister Meg Hillier, businessmen and local government officials in Edinburgh.  The Procurator Fiscal later decided not to proceed with prosecution, dropping the charges.

Surveillance

The Information Commissioner said, a central database holding details of everyone’s phone calls and emails would be a “step too far for the British way of life”.

Terrorism

A police officer was “transferred to other duties” after detaining a disabled child and his parents under the Terrorism Act on their journey from the Channel Tunnel to Calais, on suspicion that they were trafficking him.  Taxpayers, via Kent Police, paid “a substantial sum of money” to the child’s school’s welfare fund reimbursed the cost of their tickets.

August

Bill of Obligations and Privileges Rights and Responsibilities

The Joint Committee on Human Rights examined the Government’s proposals and remarked that “we regret that there is not greater clarity in the Government’s reasons for embarking on this potentially ambitious course of drawing up a Bill of Rights. A number of the Government’s reasons appear to be concerned with correcting public misperceptions about the current regime of human rights protection, under the HRA. We do not think that this is in itself a good reason for adopting a Bill of Rights”, and that the Government had been rather vague about what “responsibilities” actually meant. I wondered about the point of rights that weren’t justiciable (that is, unenforceable).

Detention without Charge

The Lords Constitution Committee warned that the 42 days proposals would undermine the judiciary and possibly lead to terrorism trials collapsing, and made a point rarely seen made by other committees: “While anti-terrorist legislation is not new, each incremental instalment, generated by concerns about public safety, must be considered not only on its merits but also in relation to the totality of such legislation”. Rather than a system of checks and balances, they said, the proposals were “a recipe for confusion”.

Expenses

Leader of the Commons Harriet Harman proposed that MPs should be banned from employing their children with taxpayers’ money. She also suggested that the rule about only having to provide receipts for items over £250 should be changed.  A letter to the Times pointed out that local councillors are required to provide receipts for items over £25.

Freedom of Information

We learned that the House of Commons refused to answer a Freedom of Information request on the grounds that it would automatically be published on the (absolutely brilliant) whatdotheyknow.com website, asserting copyright. To date this impasse has not been resolved – they are be aware that they can waive copyright but don’t want to, and the internal review has yet to complete (their target is 30 days and the review began in August…).

Inquests without Juries

The Lords Constitution Committee also expressed concern about the proposals for specially appointed coroners and inquests without juries. Lord West maintained that something seen by everyone else as a judicial function (running an inquest) was seen by the Government as an executive function.

Police

The Home Office revealed that more than 1,600 non-police officers had been given enforcement powers under its so-called Community Safety Accreditation Schemes (under Part 4 Chapter 1 Police Reform Act 2002). The Police Federation described the scheme as “half-baked”.

Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, said a Court of Appeal judgment slashing the minimum jail term of Pc Ian Broadhurst’s murderer was “unforgivable”. In an unprecedented letter to the most senior judge in England and Wales, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, Mr McKeever said: “Granting an evil, calculated killer any kind of dispensation is criminal and leaves the judiciary with blood on its hands”. What the Court actually did was to adjust the sentence according to mandatory sentencing guidelines and, despite, the outcry from people who hadn’t bothered to read the judgement, they actually rejected the part of the appeal that was based on human rights.

Surveillance

It was revealed that the MoD is carrying out research and development to enable spy drones to secretly track and photograph suspects without their knowledge within the UK.  

Home Office statistics revealed that the e-Borders programme had 0.05 % of movements resulting in an alert and 0.0042 % of movements resulting in an arrest, whch made it all seem worthwhile.  The EU Select Committee was persuaded that “PNR data, when used in conjunction with data from other sources, can significantly assist in the identification of terrorists, whether before a planned attack or after such an attack”, but no-one was able to say how useful it is. We learned that the Government wants to monitor all our travel movements: whether we take a ferry, a private boat, a plane, a train.

We learned that ContactPoint will be used by police to hunt for evidence of crime in a “shocking” extension of its original purpose: “police officers, council staff, head teachers, doctors and care workers will use the records to search for evidence of criminality and wrongdoing to help them launch prosecutions against those on the database”.

September

Borders

It was revealed that some HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) border guards, which had responsibilities for border security until April, were actually illegal workers.

The High Court ruled that the Home Office had issued unlawful instructions to its immigration officials in relation to Ghurkas: “The policy under challenge in this case either irrationally excluded material and potentially decisive considerations that the context and the stated purpose of the policy indicate should have been included; alternatively, it was so ambiguous as to the expression of its scope as to mislead applicants, entry clearance officers and immigration judges alike as to what was a sufficient reason to substantiate a discretionary claim to settlement here”.

de Menezes Inquest

The inquest kicked off with, among other things, the Coroner ordering the transcripts and evidence to be made available online.

Detention without Charge

The New Statesman launched its campaign, No Place For Children, to publicise and fight the Government’s policy of the indefinite detention of the 2000 children a year held for immigration reasons in detention centres without adequate healthcare, education, and access to the outside world.

Freedom of Information

The Home Office disappeared up its own arse when, after receiving an FOIA request from the Open Rights Group for information about the Intercept Modernisation Programme (i.e. monitoring all our electronic communications), it responded with “We are currently assessing the public interest in saying whether or not we hold the information you have requested … This letter should not be taken as conclusive evidence that the information you have requested exists or does not exist.”

Google Maps

A member of the public created a Google Map “showing some of the ways the activity of the State is already affecting you and yours in the brave new world of UK State Fascism from the tragic extreme of Jean Charles de Menezes to the surreal yet very scary” across the UK.

ID Cards

The mylifemyid spin project continued, with various inadvertant fictions including that the National Identity Register database would only hold the bare minimum required to prove our identities. Thankfully the commenters there saw through it.

The TUC, backing a motion, from the airline pilots’ union BALPA, pledged to resist the identity scheme “with all means at its disposal”.

The British Air Transport Association called on the government to postpone the planned roll-out of the scheme over the next year: “Our position remains that we do not see the ID scheme bringing any security or business benefits. All we see is it bringing additional problems and costs,” Roger Wiltshire, Bata’s secretary-general told the FT.

Home Surveillance Secretary Jacqui Smith admitted her team was still working on ways around the difficulty of recording particular sorts of fingerprints (e.g. from the elderly, manual workers, or amputees), but denied this undermined the scheme.

The Home Office tapped into xenophobia by claiming that all foreign nationals visiting our shores would be forced to obtain ID cards. NO2ID again helpfully pointed out the truth in that it was only non-EEA foreign nationals and the card would be a visitors visa, not a national identity card.  To be fair, even the UK Border Agency said that “Identity cards for foreign nationals are a form of residence permit”.

Law and Order

Lord Justice Leveson, the senior presiding judge for England and Wales, wrote to 2,000 judges and 28,000 magistrates, saying that the Courts Service has identified a £27 million shortfall in fee income for 2008-09, with shortfalls of £46 million and £17 million in 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively. His letter comes after a memorandum from the Courts Service to court managers that says: “No part of HMCS [HM Courts Service] will be protected from having to find savings”.  This was reported as the courts biggest cash crisis in decades and would lead to trial delays, cancelled sittings, and redundancies. Dozens of major trials, including rape and murder cases, were reported to be under threat because barristers are refusing to work for a minimum £91 an hour. Dozens more risked disruption and delays if the dispute over legal aid rates was not resolved swiftly.

The situation may not be helped by the recruitment of thousands of “environment volunteers”, asked to report on their neighbour’s “bin crimes” (leaving the bin out for binmen at an unallotted time) and evidence of littering and dog fouling.  Children “as young as eight” were reported to have signed up for rewards up to £500 leading to claims that a junior Stasi was being formed. On the contrary, councils said, these people were “Street Scene Champions” encouraged to report “the aftermath of enviro-crimes such as vandalism to bus shelters, graffiti, abandoned vehicles, fly-tipping”. It reminded me of what happened in April when  Hull council officials fined a young mother £75 for dropping a piece of sausage roll while trying to feed her four-year-old daughter – she refused to pay and the matter went to magistrates court where it was dismissed (with extreme prejudice, I hope). And some people who had put up missing pet posters on local lampposts were astonished to be threatened by officials with fines unless they took them down.

Meanwhile, would-be visitors to Telford Town Park learned that if they did not take at least one child with them they would be suspected of being paedophiles, and would need to undergo CRB checks and risk assessments if they wanted to hand out leaflets. Campaigners branded the policy “draconian” and “authoritarian madness” but the council defended the policy, claiming it had a responsibility to “protect the vulnerable”.

We learned that the Home Office wants tens of thousands of police officers to be armed with Tasers (the Metropolitan Police later said that they would only arm firearms officers).

Privacy

The Liberal Democrats strangely blotted their record by calling 250,000 people with an automated pre-recorded message from leader Nick Clegg.  The Information Commissioner told them off and said they mustn’t do it again.

Elizabeth Dove saw her GP about suspected depression but was later dismayed and angry to find that her sensitive NHS records were put on a database which was shared with staff at the local council. Dove discovered that it is routine for the NHS to make medical information on some patients accessible to some employees of local councils, and that it was all for our own good (in October we found out that it could have been for training purposes, as sensitive and live data is “routinely” used for training).

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales condemned as “unacceptable” the Government’s proposals for a massive expansion in the use of patient records for research purposes. 

The Conservatives pledged to scrap ContactPoint if they got into power. The launch itself was announced as delayed, but shrugged off by ministers and civil servants as being due to technical problems.  A full security review was conducted but only the executive summary was released to public consumption (Freedom of Information Act requests for the full document were rejected) – however the summary itself seemed pretty damning, and worrying.

We learned that police officers will be able to tell worried parents about the history of someone who has access to their children if they think they could be dangerous, giving details of convictions, arrests and acquittals for child sex and violence offences as well as unproven suspicions kept on file. In a related development, Farida Manji was unable to get a job – even at a supermarket – because a six year old unproven and unprosecuted allegation of abuse had been kept on file and could be seen by potential employers when they ran a background check on her, and her legal challenge to this  data retention and provision failed.

We learned that Government auditors warned us that a Home Office body aimed at preventing another Soham murder tragedy could be at “significant risk” of failing  – the Independent Safeguarding Authority is to vet millions of people, including teachers, volunteers and school bus drivers (and the data includes unproven allegations).

They will give out details of convictions, arrests and acquittals for child sex and violence offences as well as unproven suspicions kept on file.

Phorm decided to make their new trial opt-in, as opposed to doing it on the sly.

We learned that the Home Office does not always encrypt personal data before transferring it by disc and this was standard procedure.

And I started my page on Data Loss because of all the articles appearing in the media relating to it.

Surveillance

The NUJ released a short film highlighting some of the problems faced by journalists covering public demonstrations as part of its campaign against the erosion of civil liberties and media freedoms in Britain. The TUC unanimously backed a motion, proposed by the National Union of Journalists, which called for a rethink of government policies that put journalists at risk of imprisonment just for doing their job. SpyBlog pointed out that if professionals feel intimidated, what about the chilling effect on ordinary members of the public?

Statewatch revealed that “the EU is currently developing a new five year strategy for justice and home affairs and security policy for 2009-2014. The proposals set out by the shadowy “Future Group” set up by the Council of the European Union include a range of highly controversial measures including new technologies of surveillance, enhanced cooperation with the United States and harnessing the “digital tsunami”. In the words of the EU Council presidency: “Every object the individual uses, every transaction they make and almost everywhere they go will create a detailed digital record. This will generate a wealth of information for public security organisations, and create huge opportunities for more effective and productive public security efforts.” “

Terrorism

Despite three men being convicted of conspiracy to murder in relation to the alleged aeroplane bomb plot, police officers, politicians, journalists and other commentators said there was a crisis in our legal system because the jury hadn’t convicted all the suspects of actually planning to blow up aircraft. This, of course, was because the men had been found guilty by lots of people who should have know better, from the Home Secretary downward, due to the restrictions placed on travellers on liquids in their luggage and a massive publicity campaign against the men well prior to the trial.  Not only that, but a further four trials relating to the same alleged plot were yet to take place.  

The way some people put it, no-one had been convicted of anything, which would come as a surprise to the three facing a life sentence with a minimum term of 40 years.  The Daily Mail asked “Are our standards of proof too high to protect the public from terrorists? There is something wrong with a society that cannot successfully prosecute and punish those it accuses of seeking to destroy it” and others suggested getting rid of juries altogether (someone writing in the Times blamed juries for the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, clearly forgetting that the police lied, and suppressed and fabricated evidence). A retrial was demanded, which can’t have helped the cash crisis Lord Justice Leveson warned us about (above).

October

Compensation

We learned that the public receive rather more compensation for minor injuries than soldiers receive for having their arms and legs blown off, which prompted calls for increases for the latter.

de Menezes Inquest

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick said of the shooting: “If you are asking me did we do anything wrong or unreasonable, then I don’t think we did” and claimed the police did everything possible to preserve his life (with the possible exception of firing nine bullets at his head) – although the surveillance team disagreed. A Special Branch officer admitted changing evidence prompting the IPCC to start an investigation into it.

Detention without Charge

The Council of Europe’s  anti-torture committee said it had “serious doubts whether all the provisions of the draft legislation are in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. A lack of appropriate procedural safeguards may lead to arbitrariness, resulting in breaches of Articles 5 (right to liberty and security) and 6 (right to a fair trial) of the Convention”.

The House of Lords rejected 42 days by a majority of 141 and their debate was rather more impressive than that in the Commons.  Lord West told us we would all be sorry, and Jacqui Smith said that those against took the security of Britain lightly. The Government withdrew the provisions from the Counter-Terrorism Bill and put them in their own Bill to be introduced in an emergency when of course there will be less opposition.

The High Court handed down its judgement on the Binyham Mohamed case and condemned as “deeply disturbing” a refusal by the US to disclose evidence. In a particularly damning passage, they said claims by Mohamed’s lawyers that the US was refusing to release the papers because “torturers do not readily hand over evidence of their conduct” could not be dismissed and required an answer. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith asked the attorney general to investigate possible “criminal wrongdoing” by the MI5 and the CIA over its treatment of “a British resident held in Guantánamo Bay”.

Fingerprints

An inquiry began in Scotland into the Shirley McKie fingerprint scandal.

ID Cards

The Home Office revealed it will not be mandatory for people from outside the EU to show their identity cards to officials if they want to claim benefits.  It also released a new estimate of the cost of identity fraud, which was once again widely derided.

The website mylifemyid.org was taken completely offline as “the consultation was finished”.

Privacy

The European Commission again wrote to the government for an explanation of UK authorities’ response to BT’s allegedly illegal secret trials of Phorm’s ISP adware system. They wanted answers after a September missive from Whitehall failed to address legal issues surrounding past deployments of the technology, and didn’t provide details about how future rollouts will be regulated.

We find out that NHS and council staff routinely share and access live sensitive data “for training purposes”.

Protest

Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs called on the Home Secretary to investigate the policing of the Kingsnorth Climate Camp claiming that they “witnessed unnecessarily aggressive policing, unprovoked violence against peaceful protestors, an extraordinary number of police on site and tactics such as confiscating toilet rolls, board games and clown costumes from what I saw to be peaceful demonstrators”.

Speech

Holocaust denier Dr Fredrick Toben was arrested at Heathrow under a European Arrest Warrant obtained by a district court in Mannheim, Germany, for posting information of an “anti-Semitic or revisionist nature” on the internet from 2002 onwards (from Australia, where he was living at the time).  After a couple of appearances in court, the magistrate released him after demanding more details from the Germans and Toben took the opportunity to fly back to Australia.

Max Mosley applied to the the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to force a change in British law which would require editors to contact the subjects of any revelations before publishing allegations about their private lives.

Sir Ken MacDonald, stepping down as DPP, delivered a rather good speech entitled “Coming out of the Shadows”, and Sir Simon Jenkins, stepping down as regular columnist for the Sunday Times, wrote a rather good article about civil liberties and the spinelessness of our representatives.

Surveillance

Quite a bit in the mainstream media about, and mostly against, the Intercept Communications Programme (i.e. watching all our telecommunications).  A leaked memo suggested a number of Home Office officials were against the idea, claiming that it was “impractical, disproportionate, politically unattractive and possibly unlawful from a human rights perspective”.  During BBC’s Question Time, Transport Secretary Geoff “Buff” Hoon accused critics of plans for a database of mobile and web records as “giving a licence to terrorists to kill”.

The Government proposed that all purchasers of mobile phones should have to present some form of ID and their details would be recorded on another database.  This provoked outrage and the plan seems to have been droppped – of course it may rise again, as people pointed out it had been proposed on at least two previous occasions (July 2007 and April 2006).

Terrorism

A schoolboy was stopped by three police community support officers for taking photos (on a geography field trip) of Wimbledon station on his mobile phone. The student from Rutlish High School, Merton, explained he was taking pedestrian counts, a traffic survey and photos as part of a GCSE project but PCSO Barry Reeve told Fabian to sign forms under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act and submit to a stop and search. But he wasn’t searched (only stopped and questioned) and PCSOs aren’t allowed to use s44 anyway.  But thank god for those brave PCSOs.

The Government used powers in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 to freeze an estimated £4 billion of British financial assets in Landsbanki, Icesave’s parent bank.  Its supporters denied the powers had anything to do with terrorism despite their presence in that particular Act and only passing through Parliament on the grounds that they couldn’t be restricted definitively to terrorism because that would mean terrorists assets would fall through the net, and they would only be used against terrorists.

We were told that terrorists would hide their plans on websites and images used by paedophiles.

November

Compensation

The Commons public accounts committee said that victims of violent crimes are put off claiming compensation by complex forms and too much bureaucracy, less than 5% of those eligible for sums of up to £500,000 are applying, two-thirds of victims are unaware of the scheme which covers England, Wales and Scotland, and that last year there was a backlog of more than 80,000 cases.

Criminal Records

We learned that over the past five years the CRB has sent out more than 12,000 letters saying people had been convicted or accused of rape, paedophilia, or some other ghastly crime, when in fact they had not.  Even if the CRB did have their claimed accuracy of 99.9% it meant that some 11,000 people would be wrongly accused.

DNA Database

The Government lost a Lords vote over the issue of keeping peoples’ DNA and fingerprints on the police national database.  The Conservative amendment called for national guidelines for the retention of such data. Ministers bizarrely claimed guidelines weren’t needed and could hinder anti-terror operations. The Government won the vote in the Commons by a majority of 68.

ID Cards

The Home Secretary invited high street businesses to tender to be biometrics enrolment centres for the National Identity Scheme, which the government will use to issue ID cards, which made us wonder how the biometrics could be locked to the details given under interrogation interview elsewhere.

The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), which represents 10,000 of the 12,000 commercial pilots and flight engineers in Britain, said its members were being treated as “guinea pigs” and threatened to strike. The British Air Transport Association, which represents airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, branded the scheme a “dubious PR initiative by the Government and one that fails to offer any real benefits”.

The Home Office admitted it has no idea how many false matches will result from using fingerprints with the National Identity Scheme.  However, Home Office Minister Meg Hillier said, she expects that fingerprint experts will be on hand to help should false matches occur.

Meg Hillier also said that “only in specific circumstances, for example if an ID card has been lost, would verification of identity take place against the biometrics held on the National Identity Register”, which made us wonder why the Government kept banging on about how essential it was that there was a “gold standard” central database in the first place. Member of NO2ID Andrew Watson pointed out that the Government was being forced to compy with reality and how interesting it was that the revised plans were similar to the London School of Economics proposals from years ago, which the Government at the time rubbished and smeared the authors about.

Scottish Parliament backed a Scottish Government motion stating the scheme would not increase security or deter crime, while raising concerns about civil liberties, and won it by 69 to zero, with 38 Labour MSP abstentions.  Labour decided not to participate on the rather spurious grounds that Scottish Parliament had no say in the matter and therefore there was no point in voting.

Inquests

Opposition peers united to pass an amendment calling on judges sitting as coroners to have access to sensitive evidence such as tapped phone calls, winning the vote against the Government by a majority of three.  But the Government won the subsequent vote in the Commons by 64. 

Organ

Gordon Brown proposed a change in the law that may see everyone considered as a potential organ donor despite the unanimous claim of his advisers, the Organ Donation Taskforce, that presumed consent does not work.

MP Arrested

Shadow Minister Damian Green was arrested by the Metropolitan Police at his constituency home on the obscure charges of “aiding and abetting misconduct in public office” and “conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office”, in relation to an investigation into unauthorised disclosure of confidential material from within the Home Office.  All this prompted a row about what should be leaked, when, and who too, and the constitutional issue posed by the police not seeking a warrant (nor being asked for one) for their search of his office in Parliament, and whether the whole thing was at all proportionate. The affair was to have further and wider repercussions in December and January 2009.

Police

The Home Affairs Committee published their report into policing in the 21st century.  They said that the police had become uncertain about their role and that centrally imposed targets had “distorted operational priorities, criminalised many individuals for trivial misdemeanours, and prevented forces from focusing on what is important locally”, and that the mechanism for deciding on funding was too complicated and had left some authorities in a “desperate position”.

Privacy

Gordon Brown publicly accepted that data loss is inevitable.

The Government proposed to allow medical researchers to access all our medical records without our consent.

A BNP membership list was leaked by former members and a number of commentators, including the Home Secretary, decided to give up their ‘principles’ about privacy in order to make cheap political points and have a laugh. Of course some of these very same people don’t want their phone numbers and addresses to be published.

Referendum

Transport Secretary Geoff “Buff” Hoon said that if the people of Greater Manchester voted against road pricing in their area they would lose £1.5bn in central government funding for public transport and he would take his ball elsewhere. The majority voted no  – sadly there was no box marked “no and Hoon can f*** off too”.

Speech

Hazel Blears accused bloggers of fuelling “a culture of cynicism and pessimism” and suggested that the views of Cabinet Ministers were more important than those of anyone else.

Daily Fail Mail editor Paul Dacre whinged in a speech about the “threats” to the press – a commenter asked, “Have I misunderstood something, or isn’t this whole speech just a “truthy” attack (qv. Colbert) on an individual judge that Paul Dacre doesn’t like very much, because that judge persists in putting the rights of individual people to do what they like in private above the rights of some shitrag to splash it all over their front page in order to raise their sales, then cover their moral arses with lots of ultra-hypocritical tutting, preening and moralising?”

December

Adverse human rights judgements

The Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report, Monitoring the Government’s Response to Human Rights Judgements: Annual Report 2008, which looks at how the Government responds to adverse rulings, and noted, disturbingly, that “there are a number of cases against the United Kingdom which have been outstanding for longer than five years”.

Bailiffs

The Government’s continued War on an Englishman’s Home is his Castle developed further with their proposals that bailiffs should be allowed to break into people’s homes and use reasonable force against the householders in order to recover debts.

Data Sharing

NO2ID told us that the Coroners and Justice Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech, contains extraordinary new data-sharing powers that could be exercised by regulation without Parliamentary debate, setting aside not just the Data Protection Act and data protection principles when it suits, but the much more fundamental protections of Articles 6 and 8 of the ECHR/HRA, of common law confidentiality, and of ultra vires.

de Menezes Inquest

The Coroner withdrew the verdict of unlawful killing from the jury, leaving lawful killing or open verdict. This, together with the further restriction on the open verdict in the form of a questionnaire from the Coroner, prompted the family to protest, walk out and withdraw their legal representation from the proceedings. The jury later returned an open verdict, which criticised how the police handled the operation and rejected the claim that de Menezes’s behaviour contributed to his death.

DNA Database

S & Marper finally won their case against the UK before the European Court of Human Rights, which found that the retention of the men’s samples “failed to strike a fair balance between the competing public and private interests,” and that the UK government “had overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation in this regard”, and that “the retention in question constituted a disproportionate interference with the applicants’ right to respect for private life and could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society”.  The Government must respond by March 2009 but there is no right of appeal. As David Mery pointed out, since there is no statutory basis for the database and retention guidelines, but rather guidelines created by the Association of Chief Police Officers (a handy policy laundering organisation), there need only be changes to the guidelines sufficient to bring them in-line with the judgement.

Fine

As the Government failed to pay farmers until over a year after they were due to receive the money in 2005, the European Commission fined the taxpayer £74.5 million. A Defra spokesthing said, “This decision relates overwhelmingly to the 2005 SPS payments that were made in the 2007 EU financial year. Successive ministers have apologised for the problems caused with the implementation of the Single Payment Scheme in 2005”.  Of course all still have jobs. Tim Worstall pointed out that “We taxpayers get gouged to provide the support to the farmers in the first place. We taxpayers get gouged to pay the bureaucrats to administer the payments. We taxpayers get gouged to buy the new computer systems for them to play with. And when the new computer systems and the bureaucrats screw up we taxpayers get gouged again to pay the fines?”

ID Cards

We learned that Britain’s first ID cards (or rather, biometric visas), issued in late Novemner, cannot be read by any official body because the government has not issued a single scanner, and can therefore be used only in a similar way to a valid passport and visa (i.e. by the official using his eyes).

Love

The Telegraph reported that “The husband of Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, has been unmasked as the author of letters to a local newspaper defending the work of the Government. Richard Timney has written a series of letters to the Redditch Advertiser, in the Home Secretary’s constituency, defending controversial plans for ID cards and attacking the Conservatives. In the letters, Mr Timney fails to declare that he is married to Ms Smith or that he is paid £40,000 a year to act as her Parliamentary assistant. Ms Smith has kept her maiden name.” A spokesthing said that he had never concealed he was married to her.  Of course, his letters didn’t say that he was either.

Police

Met Police Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick accused the Conservative party of mobilising the press against him in revenge for him leading the investigation against Damian Green. He later apologised.

Protest

We learn that none of the injuries sustained by the police at Kingsnorth Climate Camp were a result of direct contact with protesters. Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker had earlier in the year denied that there was a disproportionate and heavy handed police presence and used in support the figure of 70 officers injured.  Of course he hadn’t bothered to ask for detail about the injuries nor had the police volunteered it, so it may have come as some surprise to FOIA requester Norman Baker MP to learn, for example, that one officer had been “stung on finger by possible wasp” (vespa vulgaris possibilis?), “three had toothache”, one was “injured sitting in car”, and one “used leg to open door and next day had pain in lower back”. Coaker apologised, saying that he “naturally assumed” the injuries were caused by protesters and that the NPIA had launched an inquiry.

Statistics

Sir Michael Scholar, heead of the UK Statistics Authority, accused the Home Office of issuing “selective” statistics on knife offending, and said the release of details on an initiative to tackle knife attacks by both the Home Office and 10 Downing Street had been “premature”.  He asked for an assurance that there would be “no repetition of this breach of the National Statistics Code of Practice”.  Home Surveillance and Made-up Statistics Secretary Jacqui Smith proved again that she can’t do a sincere apology by saying “I am sorry that I think we were too quick off the mark with the publication of one number in relation to the progress that had been made with tackling knife crime”.

Tasers

There was more about the funding by the Home Office for Tasers to be adopted by police officers throughout the country.  The Metropolitan Police Authority said they would sanction them being issued to specially trained firearms officers with Tasers, perhaps mindful of police having electrocuted Nicolas Gaubert, who was in a diabetic coma at the time, and Daniel Sylvester, apparently in a case of mistaken identity (he is black), among others.

Well, that concludes my round-up of the year.  I hope you found it interesting and not too lengthy.

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