UK Liberty

Jack Straw

Posted in Coroners and Justice Bill, law and order, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on March 3, 2009

In denial the Guardian attacking the Convention on Modern Liberty.

There are a number of ad hominem attacks.

He reiterates his well-worn claims that because the asylum seekers of his constituency tell him they preferred to come to the UK over anywhere else, and because he has no “recent correspondence” from constituents relating “to fears about the creation in Britain of a “police state” or a “surveillance society””, it is “daft” for anyone else to be concerned about such issues.  

He claims that “since 1997, we have done more to extend freedoms than any government before”.  On the one hand, perhaps they have – but on the other, they have surely eroded them too.  More accurately, they have extended some ‘freedoms’ and eroded others.  The proof is in the legislation on the statute book. He claims his opponents  “assume the loss of a golden age of liberty”.  Well, I certainly don’t.  Indeed think I’ve written here that we never had one.  But that is not to say that things today are great, is it?

He asserts that the Human Rights Act is an “overriding and systematic protection for people’s rights and liberties”.  This is a ridiculous  falsehood – it does not override the will of Parliament, which retains ultimate sovereignty.  If for example primary legislation is found to be contrary to the Human Rights Act our courts may only make a declaration of incompatibility. And by then it is too late for that person to the extent that his rights and liberties have already been interfered with – and may have been interfered with (such as being indefinitely detained without trial) for months if not years, bearing in mind how long it takes for these issues to go through our legal system.  Even adverse judgements handed down from the European Court of Human Rights may not promptly be responded to if they are not in accordance with political will.

He again claims the HRA implies “obligations in the way we exercise our rights” but neglects to provide explicit specifics.

Even the convention rights enshrined in the HRA are not absolute. The right to liberty itself can be taken away in a variety of circumstances – not least if you are convicted of a serious crime. This gets to the heart of the debate about modern liberty. Can individual rights ever be restricted in the name of the common good? I believe there are times when it is necessary to impose restrictions on some aspects of individual liberty in the interests of wider security. That is one of the central tasks of government.

And thus the leap of logic is made from a reasonable restriction on liberty in the case of a convicted criminal to restrictions on the liberties of everyone.  This is the sort of person in Government.  Be concerned – be very concerned.

He mentions that after all the criticism they have received that they will rethink the data sharing provisions in the Coroner’s and Justice Bill.  Well great, but the provisions shouldn’t have been drafted in the first place – they are obviously a Bad Thing.  Also, they shouldn’t be tagged on to the end of a very long bill, in itself a supermarket trolley of provisions, that is otherwise wholly irrelevant to personal data.

And there is of course an ultimate check on executive power – democracy. Talk of Britain sliding into a police state is daft scaremongering, but even were it true there is a mechanism to prevent it – democratic elections. People have the power to vote out administrations which they believe are heavyhanded.

Well that’s great in theory, but when only a fifth of the population voted for the party that formed the Government, one surely has to wonder how great our democracy actually is.

When people come to assess the choices available at the next election, I will stand proudly on Labour’s record, from the Lawrence inquiry, which reported 10 years ago this week, progressive legislation on race and gender, to devolution, the Human Rights Act, Freedom of Information and much more, and be ready to be judged on it. I hope that in the final reckoning even some of our harshest critics will concede that this Labour government has done more than any before it to extend liberties and to constrain government.

Well, the first comment on the article says it all for me:

An end to peaceful protest within a mile of Parliament.
ID cards.
Over 60 pieces of personal information before you can travel.
Internet monitoring.
Phone call monitoring.
The politicization of the police.
One-quarter of all the CCTV in the world.
Racist ID cards for non-EU nationals.
And you have the bare-faced cheek to say that you have extended liberties? You are a liar, Jack, and not a very good one. We want our freedom, and our country, back.

Well said.

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