Categorized | Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties

Over the past decade there has been a wholesale removal of rights that were apparently protected by the Human Rights Act and set down nearly 800 years ago in Magna Carta. The liberties that were assumed to be guaranteed by British culture have been compromised, as have constitutional safeguards that were once considered beyond the reach of a democratically elected legislature. The attack has been as broad as it is deep, with over 25 Acts of Parliament and some 50 individual measures involved so far.

That is the conclusion of “What We’ve Lost”, a report by the UCL Student Human Rights Programme, compiled for the Convention on Modern Liberty. This conclusion is backed by many examples. The presumption of innocence and the principle that every defendant has the right to be tried by a jury have been weakened by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. The important distinction between standard of proof for criminal and civil law was eroded with the introduction of ASBOs. The right to silence was further eroded by the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. Under the same Act an individual and his lawyers may be barred from court proceedings. Freedom to communicate in private has been effectively extinguished by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Under the Identity Cards Act 2006 and the Children Act 2004 a record of all the important transactions in a person’s life will be created by electronic verification. The rights to freedom of assembly and demonstration have been eroded by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Jack Straw’s Coroners and Justice Bill will end the independence of coroners, who until now have been able to investigate the cause of suspicious or uncertain deaths and criticise government departments and agencies. And so on.

In “The Assault on Liberty”, a ‘radical polemic on the state of the nation’, Dominic Raab, Chief of Staff to the Shadow Home Secretary, asks whether we can really defend our freedom by sacrificing it. “In the last ten years the government has launched an unprecedented assault on our civil liberties”. Writing in the ‘Guardian’, Timothy Garton Ash maintains that Britain has more CCTV, a larger DNA base and more police powers and email snooping than any comparable liberal democracy, coupled with a bungling bureaucracy that keeps losing vital information. He asks “how can a government of intelligent and often liberal-minded persons behave so illiberally, arrogantly and stupidly?” He sees hope in a three pronged fightback, led by judges and lawyers, the House of Lords Constitution Committee (see ‘Big Brother parts 1 & 2’, posted here on 10 February) and a rainbow coalition, many of whom have joined together to launch the Convention on Modern Liberty.

The full text of the “What We’ve Lost” report is at:- http://www.uclshrp.com/images/uploads/pdf/Abolition_of_Freedom_Act_2009.pdf

This post was written by:

- who has written 460 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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