Category Archives: Liberties

A nation of traffic wardens (The Times)

Every new agency, every new initiative that is set up increases the distrust that we feel for the State

Camilla Cavendish, The Times page 27, 12th June 2008

Why don’t we lock up the Cabinet for 42 days? That would stop them spending our money. I was talking to an education spokeswoman last week about the decline in the rigour of GCSEs. She replied, as if it answered the question, that Ofqual had just been set up to monitor exams. What’s happened to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, I asked. It used to do that. The QCA’s still there, she said. I felt like handing myself in to Oftrolley.

It’s not just the cash. Every new agency, every new initiative, nudges down the ratio of normal citizens to busybodies. Britain is starting to feel like a nation of traffic wardens. The mentality of officialdom is increasingly malevolent.

A week ago a senior businessman whom I know was shocked to be treated like a criminal by British Transport Police at the Gare du Nord in Paris. Clutching a business-class Eurostar ticket but unable to find the right queue, he ducked under a barrier. The CCTV chirruped. “Sit down!” screamed a policeman. “Give me your passport!” My friend tried to explain. No one listened. “You have no right!” shouted a hatchet-faced woman, also British, in an unreadable uniform.

Five minutes later the officer returned, all smiles. My friend’s knighthood had done the trick. But, as he says, it shouldn’t have. Such people should never be so rude to any taxpayer who pays their salaries.

I agree, having recently been humiliated by a screeching official at Victoria station. Taller than me, he called for “back-up” on his walkie-talkie because I, with my two small children and our heavy bag, was “obstructing” an empty walkway. We were there because my husband had gone to buy tickets for a train that we were going to miss after Screecher Man had refused our pleas to let us pay on board.

It was his cold hatred that unnerved me, and the acute pleasure he took in making us miss our train. We weren’t trying to slip unnoticed across an international border. We were catching the 14.32 to Sutton.

We have become objects of suspicion to institutions that used to make us feel secure: banks, councils, the police. In turn, we distrust them.

A report by Harriet Sergeant for Civitas describes the recent jump in complaints by law-abiding people against the police. A 19″year old student was arrested and detained for five hours for holding a Tube lift door open with his foot A man was nicked for pulling over to answer a phone call. Each example sounds silly, tabloid. But there are too many -to ignore. Surrey Police’s recent decision to abandon box-ticking is a measure of their concern about the corrosion of their relationship with the public.

A year ago a respected group of midwives, obstetricians and researchers called the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services wrote to the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson. Their letter said that “there is now no health professional, or official help line that parents feel they can safely ask for help”: They described people who avoid health visitors, because they see them as “health police”. They told of mothers with postnatal depression who will not go to the doctor for fear of alerting social services. They said that an incr~asing number of children are taught at home because “the educational system is now seen as part of the surveillance process”. Their letter made 15 points, many devastating.

Did Sir Liam question such alarming evidence? Did he ask for more detail? Did he launch an inquiry into whether the joining up of childrens’ services is breaking trust between parents and professionals?

No. He thanked them for the letter -two months later. He said that he shared many of their concerns. And he said how lucky they were that the Department for Children. Schools and Families had been set up.

That was Standard Reply I: “Not my responsibility.” Standard Reply 2 is: “Thanks for your letter, but things are getting better: let me tell you about them at length, even though they don’t relate to your concern.” I don’t know if there is an SR3, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to get any sense out of Whitehall.

Many of us hav~ complained about the lack of “joined-up government”. Now we are seeing the disadvantages of read-across. The Children’s Database, which will contain the personal details of every child. is justified on the grounds that it will make children safer. An absurd claim, given the number of people who will be able to use it at will. Who will be responsible for inputting information on “difficulties in the parents’ relationship”, and “ways in which the family’s income is used”?

The latest proposal by Home Office officials, to hold every telephone call and e-mail in the UK,described as a “crucial tool” for protecting national security and preventing crime, is wholly disproportionate.

Each new measure is justified in the same way -you have nothing to fear if you have done nothing wrong, But that is no longer true. We have everything to fear from a State that has lost all sense of proportion. In a free society, rights and laws protect people from the government. In a tyranny, rights and laws protect government from the people. Often, the first thing I’ve seen when visiting tyrannies are unpleasant and swaggering officials trying to impound my passport. I don’t want to see them at the Eurostar.

What irks me most is that “they” don’t know us, only our data. Getting to see my GP requires tenacious redialling and extended grovelling. An appointment lasts seven minutes. But the practice regularly writes to query my children’s vaccinations. They seem unable to accept that these are done by my father-in-law. That doesn’t fit their box.

One day, I fear, they11 compare notes with Victoria station Screecher Man: “Subversive … wild-eyed … suspiciously large handbag.” If “incitement to hatred by officials” becomes an offence, I’ll be first to go down. Let’s not get that far.
Feed Shark

MP’s Bold Stand on Liberty

I’m not a Conservative, but good on you David Davis (Conservative MP who resigned today on principle). He wants the country to debate what is really going on to the invasion of our civil liberties by this Database and authoritarian government, who are so willing to erode our privacy for indefinitely.

Lock up the terrorist on conviction, not on suspicion. Other wise, we are treading down the dangerous path where by we all could be locked up ‘under suspicion’. And stop the constant surveillance of individuals by the state, we want freedoms and we will not be controlled by our servants.

“But, Parliament will get a vote on extension!”

One of the many concessions that the Government had to put in the Counter Terrorism Bill is for Parliament to take the decision  in a case to extension without charge.

Firstly, the home secretary needs to be satisfied there is a “grave exceptional terrorist threat”. Secondly, top prosecutors and police issue a report setting out why they need the power. Once the home secretary signs the order, she must inform Parliament within two days and both houses must approve the move. The special powers for 42-day detention are only available to the home secretary for 30 days, after which she must reapply for the powers. Even while she has these powers, each suspect will be able to challenge any application to hold them beyond 28 days in front of a judge.

BBC News Website, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7447218.stm

This sounds like a good safeguards which would guarantee proper checks and balances against arbitrary treatment. The Telegraph’s legal editor, Joshua Rosenberg, clarified the exact process in an interview just on BBC News:

The Home Secretary has to lay an order before Parliament. It’s not as complicated as people think, because she [the Home Secretary] doesn’t have to persuade Parliament that there’s this grave, exceptional terrorist threat; all she needs to get is a request from the Director of Public Prosecutions and a Chief Constable, or equivalent … , and then she can make The Order and then it survives, even if Parliament votes [against it], for at least a few days … Once the order is granted, the police can detain any number of people while the order is still in force for up to 42 days.

So Parliament will be given the information it needs to vote responsibly on the case?

… the intention is that Parliament will not be given the sort of information about individual cases that some people seem to be expecting, because … if that was made public that would prejudice a forthcoming trial. So, there’s no need for that information …

Pardon? This means that absolute trust must be placed in as few as three people for the liberty of ‘any number of people’. Is this right and fair?

Who did the 42-day pollsters interview?

Views on the BBC News website (http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?forumID=4931&edition=1&ttl=20080611185757) beg the question, how did the pollsters come to their conclusions? I might have the answer: most of those in favor of the extension of detention without charge don’t relaise it is without charge and they also don’t realise how the new powers could potentially be used against anyone. 

There’s no smoke without a fire!? See my previous posts to see that these new powers could very easily be used against normal everyday people and misused by the authorities. Servants of the people? The butler is running the mansion house.

Government wins vote on 42 day limit

“For the House of Commons to vote in this way is replacing the work of the Courts … The reason we put people before the courts is because they are independent – the juries independent, but if you have a vote in the House of Commons [to extend detention for suspects] is a corruption of a basic principle  which we have boasted of for so many hundreds of years.”

Tony Benn former MP, 11th June 2008, speaking on BBC NEWS after the results of the vote.

37 Labour MPs joined forces with Conservative and Lib Dems to vote against the proposals was not enough to stop the Government winning the vote on extending the maximum time police can hold terror suspects to 42 days. The bill was passed by 315 MPs to 306 votes, a majority of just 9 votes.

Veteran former Labour MP Tony Benn said: “I never thought I would be in the House of Commons on the day Magna Carta was repealed.” He also called it “Bin Laden’s biggest victory”, adding that it is a “bad law, bad for us, bad for the people and for Britain’s position in the world”. He said he hoped it would be overturned in the House of Lords. Mike Blakemore of Amnesty International says the government’s concessions to win the vote on terror detentions are “essentially meaningless”.

“Only Clauses 1, 9 and 29 of the Magna Carta remain unrepealed. Clause 29 says that no freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or have his liberties removed but by lawful judgment of his peers. Detention for 42 days without trial essentially abrogates this clause and removes 800 years of a basic civil liberty: the right to due process.”
Matt Platts, Reading, UK, BBC NEWS website