A Queen's Speech in new liberty language?

24 May 2010

Today Liberty responded optimistically to many of the proposals rumoured to be announced in tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech.

In particular, the organisation has long campaigned against Identity Cards and the National Identity Register and welcomes the advent of a “Great Repeal Bill” instead of the usual diet of extra police powers and criminal offences that we are often fed by a new Parliament. Alongside the reform of the DNA database and other sensitive databases, regulation of surveillance and measures to restore peaceful protest Liberty would like to see the Great Repeal Bill include the following:

The early repeal of the unsafe and unfair “control order” regime that provides indefinite punishment without trial (house arrest etc) for terror suspects on the basis of secret intelligence instead of charges, evidence and proof. This regime was fought by both coalition parties in opposition. Whilst this regime is renewed by Parliament annually, neither the Conservatives nor Liberal Democrats have voted for renewal for the last three years.

Reversal of in-roads into the right to jury trial created by the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

A reform of Britain’s “summary extradition” arrangements with the US, EU and a number of other countries. No one should be sent from Britain to face charges abroad if it would be fairer to deal with them here and without a basic case to answer being shown in a British court. The injustice caused by “instant extradition” has been most recently highlighted by the heart-rending case of Gary McKinnon. Until the law is changed to put discretion and compassion at the heart of the system, the only hope for people like Gary is under the Human Rights Act.

Legal prohibition to guarantee the promise in the Programme for Government that children will no longer be held in immigration detention.

On a more worrying note, Liberty will look closely at the detail of draft legislation on police and parliamentary reform to ensure that operational police independence and the ability of Parliament to hold Government to account, is not compromised.

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty said:

“After years of sweeping police powers, criminal offences and constant attacks on our rights and freedoms, the new liberty language of this Queen’s speech will be music to many ears. But in claiming this territory, the Coalition parties must expect even closer scrutiny. As always, Liberty will not flinch from holding the Government to its word.”

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NOTES TO EDITORS

1. In December 2008 the European Court of Human Rights stated in the S and Marper v UK ruling that the UK’s policy of indefinite retention of DNA for unconvicted people is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. In response to this judgment, the Crime and Security Act 2010 reduced the retention period to 6 years for those arrested but not charged or convicted. Even as amended, our retention regime remains disproportionate – failing to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. Liberty also believes our current regime leaves the UK in breach of the Court judgment and the European Convention on Human Rights.

2. Although CCTV can be useful in detecting crime, the number of cameras throughout the UK has serious implications on the right to private life. Liberty also believes – as independent research confirms – that the benefits of CCTV have been exaggerated. Despite technological innovations and a huge increase in the quantity of CCTV, Parliament is yet to consider this issue, in particular the necessity of regulation.

3. Despite much talk of repeal, sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 - which dangerously undermine the right to protest in the vicinity of Parliament - remain on the statute book. Also in need of reform is Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (stop and search without suspicion) which has been used to clamp down on peaceful protesters. In January 2010, Liberty successfully challenged this power - and its use against protesters - in the European Court of Human Rights. The powers were found to be in breach of article 8 (private life) of the European Convention of Human Rights and are now in urgent need of amendment.

4. More information about Liberty’s ‘Unsafe, Unfair’ campaign

5. Sections 43-48 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows for the removal of juries in crown court trials.

6. More information about Liberty’s Extradition Watch campaign.

7. In the immigration section of the Coalition agreement ‘ Programme for Government’, it states ‘ we will end the detention of children for immigration purposes’.

8. Liberty is concerned over proposals – made previously by both parties now in Government - for directly elected individuals or directly elected police authorities to be given responsibility for operational policing. We welcome a recent change in the language of this proposal – which is now rumoured to be introduced after the summer recess. We will be looking for further clarification that while democratic scrutiny might be exercised over police budgets this will not compromise operational independence.

9. Liberty is concerned that well-meaning plans to tie the PM’s hands with fixed term parliaments should not impede MPs’ ability to instigate a vote of no confidence in any serving Government of the day.