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Civil liberties and the coalition government

Civil liberties and the coalition government

Party manifestos are really little more than wish lists. But the unprecedented Tory and Liberal coalition agreement, produced at breakneck speed, and to be followed in due course by a final and fully comprehensive agreement, is something else. It is little short of a Queen’s speech for a whole parliament. Section 10 of the agreement is about civil liberties. The preamble states: “The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.” There follow 12 specific pledges.

 Britain leads the world in the use of CCTV. As a result, surveillance has become an inescapable part of life. Britain has a larger DNA base and more police powers and email snooping than any comparable liberal democracy. The agreement pledges further regulation of CCTV, the ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason and the adoption of the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database. The presumption of innocence and the principle that every defendant has the right to be tried by a jury were weakened by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 and 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. The rights to freedom of assembly and demonstration were eroded by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The coalition agreement promises the protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury and the restoration of rights to non-violent protest.

In June last year, the law lords dealt a major blow to the controversial use of control orders on terror suspects, saying that reliance on secret evidence denies them a fair trial. The then Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, and Chris Grayling, the then shadow home secretary, went on record to welcome the law lords’ decision and to demand an end to “cruel and counter-productive punishments without trial”. Under section 44 Terrorism Act 2000 police can stop and search anyone in a designated area without suspicion that an offence has occurred. Last year a total of 117,278 people were stopped and searched. The coalition agreement promises safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

Kenneth Clarke, the new Justice secretary, and his team, including Lord McNally, Lib Dem leader in the Lords, will immediately commence work on the promised ‘Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.’ Other major provisions include the scrapping of the ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database; the outlawing of finger-printing of children at school without parental permission; and the extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency. There will be a review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech and a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

The full text of the Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition Agreement can be found at:-

http://www.conservatives.com/News/News_stories/2010/05/Coalition_Agreement_published.aspx

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 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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