Categorized | Civil Liberties, Law Updates

Protection of Freedoms Bill

Protection of Freedoms Bill

The Identity Documents Bill abolished identity cards and the national identity register in December 2010. It was the first instalment of the government’s promise to introduce legislation to “restore freedoms and civil liberties through the abolition of identity cards and unnecessary laws.” The Protection of Freedoms Bill, presented to Parliament last week, is the next step.

The bill covers a multitude of matters. It provides for a maximum pre charge detention period of 14 days, scraps the notorious section 44 stop and search powers and repeals or rewrites the provision of powers of entry and associated powers. Clause 26 ends the fingerprinting (and other biometrics such as iris scanning) of children in schools without parental consent, and clause 25 provides for the destruction of DNA and fingerprint evidence samples of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. The bill provides for a code of practice about surveillance camera systems, including the CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems, and the appointment of a Surveillance Camera Commissioner. It creates a new criminal offence of immobilising, moving or preventing the movement of a vehicle without lawful authority, aimed at rogue wheel clamping firms.

There will be reform of the vetting and barring scheme and criminal records regime to scale them back to more common-sense levels. Clause 82 provides that historical convictions or cautions for consensual gay sex with over-16s will no longer have to be disclosed. Clause 92  plans to amend the Freedom of Information Act so that if requested data is either held in an electronic dataset or the applicant expresses a preference for data in electronic form, “the public authority must, so far as reasonably practicable, provide the information to the applicant in an electronic form which is capable of re-use”. The bill also strengthens the powers of the information commissioner. Marriage laws will be amended to allow people to marry outside the hours of 8am-6pm. And clause 99 repeals the provisions of section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which allowed certain fraud cases to proceed without a jury.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “This is a landmark Bill which will result in an unprecedented rolling back of the power of the state. The Protection of Freedoms Bill brings together a huge range of measures to restore the hard-won British liberties that have been lost in recent years.” Writing in the ‘Observer’, Henry Porter said: “The bill is a creditable start and it tells us that the Blair attack on liberty is spent.” But it is just two cheers from Cian Murphy. Writing in the ‘Guardian’ he said: “It is piecemeal reform of selective aspects of several years worth of intrusive legislation. Progressive reform should always be welcomed but let’s hold the fanfare. It’s no Magna Carta.” Even more critical is the Law Society, whose President, Linda Lee, said: “While the aim of scaling back state powers and reversing what has been seen as the widespread erosion of civil liberties in recent years is laudable the Bill as a whole fails to measure up to the Government’s grand rhetoric.” She said: “The Society has grave doubts that the Bill will be seen as the turning point in the growth of the surveillance society,” adding: “Freedom is also about enabling people, yet cuts to legal aid will do precisely the opposite.”

The full text of the Protection of Freedoms Bill 2010-11 can be found at:

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/protectionoffreedoms.html

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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