Perspective: State Control under the Real Big Brother; Terrorism Is Once Again Casting a Shadow across the UK. but, as Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Menzies Campbell Argues, the Real Threat Comes from the Increasing Raft of Laws Being Introduced to Defend British Shores

The Birmingham Post (England), July 14, 2006 | Go to article overview

Perspective: State Control under the Real Big Brother; Terrorism Is Once Again Casting a Shadow across the UK. but, as Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Menzies Campbell Argues, the Real Threat Comes from the Increasing Raft of Laws Being Introduced to Defend British Shores


When Labour was elected in 1997 it moved quickly with the Human Rights Act 1998, hailing it as a means to "bring about a culture of rights and responsibilities across the UK".

Last month Mr Blair wrote to the Home Secretary suggesting that there should be new laws which would allow the government to veto court rulings with which it disagreed.

The Lord Chancellor suggested the Human Rights Act could be amended to make sure it is not "distracting officials".

But the whole point of civil and human rights is that they force governments to maintain standards and not simply over-ride what they don't like.

Extraordinary threats - like international terrorism - may require us, in times of emergency and for limited periods, to find a different balance between our liberties and security.

But the correct response to such threats should not be the abandonment of the hard won liberties.

Nor is the correct response to call into question the consensus which has developed as part of the struggle for equality in the last two centuries.

The Human Rights Act is a shield against the tyranny of majorities and the abuse of public powers. It enables British courts to provide effective remedies for the abuse of power by public authorities.

In framing our response to new threats, such decisions should be carefully argued and pursued with widespread support' they should not be implemented in a rush. Hard won rights once lost, may never be regained.

We should always be vigilant that powers granted to government are limited to the mischief they are designed to address.

Civil liberties are being trampled underfoot by legislation and policy.

The Terrorism Act allows the police to stop and search people in a designated area - and that designated area can be anywhere as defined by the police.

The Serious Crime and Police Act requires protesters to obtain police permission before demonstrating within a kilometre of Parliament. This covers key areas around Westminster and Whitehall where a protest is likely to have most impact.

The national DNA database stores our details once we hand over a sample of DNA. Whether or not you are convicted of a crime - whether or not you are even charged - the data is stored.

The right to trial by jury and the double jeopardy principle have both been eroded by an executive that seeks targets and conviction rates.

Fundamental and historic liberties are under threat as state control increases. How secure can the individual feel, then, from state control in this environment?

If the Government does not trust the people, it does not trust Parliament either.

Legislation is centralising the decision-making process ever more narrowly, giving more power to ministers at the expense of the Commons. The Civil Contingencies Act is a case in point. It allows a minister to declare a state of emergency, seize assets, set up courts and limit citizens' right to assembly. Parliament can only intervene after seven days.

Similarly, under the terms of the Inquiries Act a minister sets the terms of reference for an inquiry and has sway over what evidence is admitted. He can exclude the public and bring it to a close without explanation.

The intention of these legislative efforts has been to combat the threat of terrorism. This has backfired spectacularly.

The majority of this legislation was passed, or in the process of being passed, on that terrible day in July last year when Britain witnessed its first suicide bombings.

The rise of the threat to our citizens is much to do with Britain's role in Iraq. But it is clear the raft of authoritarian legislation that has been passed has done nothing to enhance security.

In the meantime, our own personal liberties have been completely undermined. State control over freedom of speech, assembly and movement and personal information, has been coupled with increased powers for the executive over the legislature. …

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Perspective: State Control under the Real Big Brother; Terrorism Is Once Again Casting a Shadow across the UK. but, as Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Menzies Campbell Argues, the Real Threat Comes from the Increasing Raft of Laws Being Introduced to Defend British Shores
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