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You’re accused once therefore you’re fired…

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:04 pm on 29 June, 2008.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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From a report in the Telegraph:

Mr Pinnington was fired from his post as deputy principal of Thomley Hall, a college for autistic children in Oxfordshire, when his employers requested an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check after he took the job in 2005.

The check revealed an unsubstantiated allegation of sexual abuse that was made against him by an autistic child he had cared for at another college in 2001. Police had investigated the allegation at the time and dismissed it.

Mr Pinnington, 59, is now challenging the right of Thames Valley Police to have disclosed the allegation to his new employer.

The case is a test of tough new vetting laws introduced after the murders of the Soham schoolgirls in 2002. The girls’ killer, Ian Huntley, had been able to get a job as a school caretaker despite having faced repeated allegations of sex offences involving underage girls.

Since then, all criminal allegations, whether or not they are ever proven in court, have been entered on to suspects’ police records and disclosed to future employers who request enhanced CRB checks.

Mr Pinnington’s lawyers are challenging that rule and arguing that unsubstantiated allegations should not be disclosed by the police unless there is good cause for believing them to be true.

Recent articles on the erosion of British liberty

It’s tough keeping up with everything civil liberties related at the moment. I feel one way through the thicket is to do some roundups on the articles that have appeared recently. On that basis, here’s a selection of recent articles on the issues raised by David Davis’s resignation:

  • “This surveillance onslaught is draconian and creepy”. Marina Hyde, writing in the Guardian, highlights the absurd creepiness and extent of state surveillance these days:

    The past few years have thrown up dozens of instances which made one wince to be a citizen of this septic isle, but a personal low came with the discovery that 500,000 bins had been fitted with electronic tracking devices. Transponders in bins … Could any morning news item be more designed to force one back against the pillows, too embarrassed about one’s country to start the day? Yes, as it turned out. A couple of months ago it was discovered that Poole borough council, in Dorset, had used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - designed to track serious criminals and terrorists - to determine whether a school applicant and her parents lived where they said they did. They did, and were appalled to discover they had been spied on for three weeks, the subject of surveillance notes such as “female and three children enter target vehicle and drive off”. Target vehicle, if you please! The thought of some deep-cover council drone jotting this stuff down as though it were an elite Delta Force operation is not as funny as it is horrifying.

    Just who are these people, these swelling legions of unelected, ill-qualified monitors who wield such extraordinary power in our surveillance society? Clarification in one case came last year, when the civilian in charge of a Worcester police station’s surveillance team was suspended after detectives found, among one day’s footage, a 20-minute sequence of close-ups of a woman’s cleavage and backside as she walked oblivious through the streets. Whether the woman ever discovered she was the star of a kind of pervert Truman Show is not recorded. But the offending monitor escaped with a warning and was - unbelievably - back in post within weeks.

  • Bruce Schneier, a security expert, questions the usefulness of pervasive CCTV:

    To some, it’s comforting to imagine vigilant police monitoring every camera, but the truth is very different. Most CCTV footage is never looked at until well after a crime is committed. When it is examined, it’s very common for the viewers not to identify suspects. Lighting is bad and images are grainy, and criminals tend not to stare helpfully at the lens. Cameras break far too often. The best camera systems can still be thwarted by sunglasses or hats. Even when they afford quick identification — think of the 2005 London transport bombers and the 9/11 terrorists — police are often able to identify suspects without the cameras. Cameras afford a false sense of security, encouraging laziness when we need police to be vigilant.

    The solution isn’t for police to watch the cameras. Unlike an officer walking the street, cameras only look in particular directions at particular locations. Criminals know this, and can easily adapt by moving their crimes to someplace not watched by a camera — and there will always be such places. Additionally, while a police officer on the street can respond to a crime in progress, the same officer in front of a CCTV screen can only dispatch another officer to arrive much later. By their very nature, cameras result in underused and misallocated police resources.

  • “A quarter of adults to face anti-paedophile tests”. The Telegraph’s Christopher Hope reporting on the new “Independent Safeguarding Authority” and the requirement or anyone doing voluntary or paid work with children to submit to CRB checks:

    From next year the new Independent Safeguarding Authority will require any adult who come into contact with children or vulnerable adults either through their work or in voluntary groups to be vetted.

    But Prof Furedi’s report, Licensed to Hug, highlighted examples of when adult-child relationships were distorted by the need for CRB checks already being required by schools and other organisations.

    In one example, a woman could not kiss her daughter goodbye on a school trip because she had not been vetted.

    In another, a mother was surprised to be told by another parent that she and her husband were “CRB checked” when their children played together.

    In a third example, a father was given “filthy looks” by a group of mothers when he took his child swimming on his own in “a scene from a Western when the room goes silent and tumbleweed blows across the foreground”.

    Prof Furedi details how one woman was made to feel like a “second class mother” because she was barred from a school disco because she did not have a CRB check.

    Prof Furedi, a sociology professor from Kent University, said that “adults are no longer trusted or expected to engage with children on their own initiative”.

    He said: “When parents feel in need of official reassurance that other parents have passed the paedophile test before they even start on the pleasantries, something has gone badly wrong in our communities.

    “We should question whether there is anything healthy in a response where communities look at children’s own fathers with suspicion, but would balk at helping a lost child find their way home.”

  • David Davis himself, writing for Conservative Home, explains his actions:

    My conduct may seem eccentric in the eyes of some - but my motive is plain and simple. I have deliberately embarked upon an unorthodox course of action to dramatise the damage being done to the country I love, the mother of democracies, by the Government’s cavalier disregard for the liberties we have fought for down the centuries.

    Plans to lock up terrorist suspects for up to 42 days without charge are but the latest in a long line of repressive and intrusive measures visited on this country by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. To take one example, there are now 266 state powers allowing officials to force their way into your home. Six hundred public bodies have the authority to bug phones and emails and intercept the post. And God help you if you put out the wrong kind of rubbish or attempt to get you child into one of the few schools not ruined by a decade of Labour government. Gordon’s neighbourhood spies are watching.

    My hostility to the Government’s bloated and unworkable £19 billion ID card scheme and my dismay at its creation of the largest DNA database on earth stuffed with the details of a million innocent people are well known.

    But this is not how some of Metternich’s latter-day disciples in the parliamentary lobby have generally chosen to report my words and deeds. Some have even called it a “moment of madness”. Well I think it is madness that, when someone takes a principled stance on a matter of vital national interest, it sparks such a bewildered response from certain quarters of the Westminster village. In truth, I thought carefully about my decision to force a by-election on a national issue.

    Fortunately, the Westminster Village does not have a monopoly on political comment and reporting. In marked contrast to some rumour-mongering in the media, the blogosphere rapidly is becoming the real forum of popular debate and it offered a very different take. Frankly, I was surprised and humbled to find that this this site’s survey of Conservatives found that 65 per cent were inspired by my decision.

  • The UK Liberty blog, has excellent coverage of the parliamentary debate over “42 days”, amongst some very revealing exchanges highlighted, there is this one with David Davis on whether there’s any evidence to extend the current 28 day limit:

    There was some very interesting information from David Davis:

    Let us start with Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. In his evidence to Parliament, the commissioner said explicitly:

    “We have never put forward a case that there is evidence of a need for an extension”. ——[Official Report, Counter-Terrorism Public Bill Committee, 22 April 2008; c. 11, Q3.]

    He based his support for 42 days on “a pragmatic inference” based on trends in a number of plots and on those plots’ complexity. In support of that, he and his counter-terrorism chief initially claimed that 15 terrorist plots had been thwarted since the 7/7 bombings. It was on that basis that he presented his evidence to the Bill Committee. But then it transpired that there had been a mistake. The corrected evidence revealed the true picture, which is that between 2003 and 2005, there were nine plots, three a year, and there have been four since the beginning of 2006, two a year. So, the number of plots, far from increasing, has actually decreased over the past three years. That is a good thing, but it is not an argument for extra powers, and although we should not underestimate the threat, we should not overstate it either.

    The third witness was Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, who said that the police, operating under the current 28-day limit were “up against the buffers”. That is the claim being made: not that we might be, but that we are up against the buffers. He based his judgment on the most complex counter-terrorism investigation in our history, Operation Overt, in respect of the alleged plot to blow 10 airliners out of the sky at Heathrow in August 2006. In that case, five people were held for 27 or 28 days. One can see why that superficial analysis leads us to the idea that we are up against the buffers, but it is only a superficial analysis. I asked Mr. Jones yesterday whether he had examined the detailed evidence in Operation Overt. He told me that he had not had the opportunity. I did look at the evidence. Three of the five suspects were held for the maximum period. More than half were innocent.

    To which Frank Field replied, “No, they were found not guilty.”

    Um, that does mean innocent - indeed formally found innocent. Davis took it in his stride:

    Innocent. That demonstrates— [Interruption.] We can reiterate the argument that we had last time. The last time I used “innocent”, Labour Members exploded in uproar at the idea that those people might be innocent, so I told Labour Members that I had asked the police at the time whether they were concerned sufficiently to put those three people under control orders. “No,” they said. I asked whether they were sufficiently concerned to put them under overt or covert surveillance? “No,” they said. I asked whether they were carrying on any further investigations into them? “No,” they said.

    all the evidence on the only two suspects charged after 21 days was in the possession of the police within four and 12 days respectively. I suspect that that is why the Director of Public Prosecutions does not believe that the extension is at all necessary or foresee circumstances in which it will be necessary in future.

    Chris Bryant intervened with the by now well-worn implication that the police will get the huff and sulk if suspects are let go and subsequently blow something up:

    The right hon. Gentleman is basing his whole argument on his assertion that there is no evidence that proves that these powers are necessary. Surely the only evidence that there could possibly be would be a catastrophic failure of the criminal justice system that meant that the police were unable to charge somebody before the end of the 28 days and that person then going on to commit a major atrocity. That is precisely what we are all trying to avoid. [ Interruption. ]

    If they were not subject to surveillance and/or control order we truly have problems - but I have more faith than Chris Bryant.

  • Bruce Schneier again has an article on “The War on Photography”, highlighting how photographers are being subjected to increasing amounts of harassment by the authorities, many of his examples come from Britain:

    What is it with photographers these days? Are they really all terrorists, or does everyone just think they are?

    Since 9/11, there has been an increasing war on photography. Photographers have been harassed, questioned, detained, arrested or worse, and declared to be unwelcome. We’ve been repeatedly told to watch out for photographers, especially suspicious ones. Clearly any terrorist is going to first photograph his target, so vigilance is required.

    Except that it’s nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.

    Given that real terrorists, and even wannabe terrorists, don’t seem to photograph anything, why is it such pervasive conventional wisdom that terrorists photograph their targets? Why are our fears so great that we have no choice but to be suspicious of any photographer?

    Because it’s a movie-plot threat.

    Note that, in the original, the above paragraphs contain numerous links (too many to copy over easily) substantiating the claims of harassment, questioning, detention etc which are worth following up. E.g. one of the links is to this article in Amateur Photographer. Check out the poster featured in that article, which is used by the Metropolitan police. I suspect this sort of campaign is what lies behinds incidents such as this one in London’s Oxford Street.

It seems clear to me that Britain is becoming an increasingly petty, officious, fearful, paranoid and authoritarian society…

David Davis’s formal campaign launch

Today David Davis formally launched his campaign with this speech. A couple of quotations follow:

One year on how different this country feels. We were promised humility but government has grown even more arrogant. We were promised respect for democracy but Ministers have stooped to new lows. We were promised greater respect for the fundamental freedoms that define this great country but the relentless erosion of British liberty has continued unabated.

The trigger for my resignation was the rigged voted on 42 days. Can anyone remember a Prime Minister engaging in more sordid and cynical bout of deal-making, that at one and the same time managed both to buy off our democracy, and pawn off the crown jewels of British liberty?

We already had the longest period of pre-charge detention in the free world. And Mr Brown’s Britain now tops a whole range of international league tables.

The imminent arrival of the most intrusive ID card system in the world. A mammoth liability that both security and IT experts warn will offer up our personal details as a huge, attractive and vulnerable target for criminal hackers and terrorists at a cost to the taxpayer of £19 billion.

We have the largest DNA database in the world, with one million innocent citizens swabbed and sampled, serious criminals left off, and less than 0.4% of crimes detected using DNA.

We have the largest number of CCTV cameras in the world, 1 for every 14 citizens.
But 80% of the footage from this half a billion pound investment is unusable and lax controls allow gross intrusions of innocent people’s privacy.

In Gordon Brown’s Britain, the state has amassed 266 separate powers to force its way into your home. In Gordon Brown’s Britain, the state lost 25million child benefit records in the post. In Gordon Brown’s Britain, council spies follow your children home from school, to check they are not cheating the catchment area.

Is this the next chapter in British liberty we were promised?

And:

Third, it is high time we took a stand against the sustained assault on British liberty.

High time, we rolled back the creeping intrusions of the state into our daily lives. And high time we checked the power of this arbitrary, abusive and arrogant government.

I believe the stand I am taking is already achieving its aims.

I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received: Across the conventional political divides. From Michael Portillo to Tony Benn. From those with experience fighting terrorism, like General Mike Rose, and those who have been the victim of terrorism, like Terry Waite.

And, above all, I have been humbled by the support from the thousands upon thousands of people going about their daily lives who paused, took stock, and wrote to me with their precious and invaluable moral support.

Raising the level of national consciousness will be one benchmark of the success of this campaign. But my aim is also to send a shot across the bows of the state. To check its inexorable accumulation of power at the expense of the citizen.

Finally:

Ladies and gentleman, there is a clear choice in this by-election.

It is the choice between a vision of a free Britain which protects our fundamental freedoms and respects personal privacy and Gordon Brown’s vision of an over-weaning, interfering and increasingly authoritarian state interfering in every nook and cranny of our daily lives.

Davis also launched a mini-manifesto:

10 Policies to Protect British Freedom

1.Reverse 42 days pre-charge detention – a ‘PR coup for Al-Qaeda’.
2.Scrap ID cards – put the £19 billion savings towards a Border Police Force and other security measures.
3.Immediate reversal of the ban on free speech outside Parliament.
4.Protect the right to trial by jury.
5.Stop neighbourhood spies using powers that should rest with the police and MI5.
6.Use intercept evidence to prosecute terrorists – but restrict bugging by local councils.
7.Replace 1 million innocent citizens on the DNA database with the serious criminals left off.
8.Make CCTV more effective (80% is unusable) – strengthen punishments for privacy abuse.
9.Slash the 266 separate powers the state has to force its way into the home.
10.Launch an independent inquiry into the government’s serial database failures.

These policies are fine as far as they go, but they tackle only the tip of the iceberg.

Jill Saward stands against David Davis

Of the 25 candidates standing against David Davis, one of the most serious opponents is Jill Saward, who has campaigned for tougher laws to deal with rape ever since being attacked herself in the Ealing Vicarage case of 1986. She explains why she is opposing David Davis here. David Davis has written a response, covering most of the substantive points made in Saward’s article, here.

I’m glad that an opponent who will argue sincerely for the government’s measures, such as CCTV and the DNA database (Saward would actually extend it to cover everyone) is standing because it means that the debate the government has been trying to avoid will in fact go ahead. Saward is clearly arguing from the point of view that the measures she’s defending are vital tools in the fight against crime. It is notable that during the last 10 years is the government’s continuous erosion of liberty has failed to stop a rise in violent crime, including gun crime, yet much of the justification for these measures has been to fight crime.

Whilst crime remains an issue of such concern to the public, there will continue to be a lot of pressure on governments, of whatever party, to be seen to be “doing something” about it, and in the current climate where passing draconian laws is seen as the main way of being “tough” on crime, those who wish to defend civil liberties are going to have a hard time of it. Challenging this aspect of our political climate is vital, as is getting to grips with the problem of crime, if the erosion of civil liberties is to be stopped.

I hope the public debate that surrounds this by-election will help to clarify these issues. It seems to me that Labour has in fact been tough on those accused of crime during the last decade, mistaking this approach for being tough on criminals. Making it easier to convict (or otherwise place sanctions against) the accused, as Labour have done, increases the risk that any of us might be wrongfully convicted or wrongfully subjected to sanctions, which means that the actual criminals will get away with their crimes.

Anyway, the remainder of this article constitutes my response to Jill Saward’s opening salvos in this campaign.

(more…)

David Davis for Freedom

Update: Davis’s site has a set of debate forums where registered users can debate topics.

David Davis’s campaign site is up and has a weblog, which includes an article explaining his stance on 28 days pre-charge detention vs 42 days (which I’ll respond to later). You can also donate to his campaign.

Guest article: “42 days will only be used against terrorists”

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:09 pm on 21 June, 2008.
Categories political liberties, democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

“TD”, who writes the UK Liberty blog, wrote an article dissecting many of the arguments over the “42 days” proposals. This article has been reproduced here, with permission, as a guest briefing document.

Jersey institutes indefinite detention without charge, then withdraws it.

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:36 pm on 20 June, 2008.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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Update: Original article was posted before I’d read the comments on the Samizdata page indicating that the order was withdrawn and that the newspaper is the Jersey Evening Post (not the Telegraph as originally posted).

[Hat tip: Samizdata]

From the Jersey Evening Post:

THE Home Affairs Minister has sent shock waves through the legal profession by authorising the indefinite detention of suspects without charge.

On 5 June, Senator Wendy Kinnard amended the criminal code that had limited pre-charge detention to 36 hours.

She did so under delegated powers enjoyed by the minister under the terms of the Police Procedures and Criminal Evidence (Jersey) Law.

However, that same law states that before such changes to codes are made, the minister is required to publish a draft of the changes and consult interested parties. She did neither of these things – a failure that has left the Island’s criminal lawyers stunned.

The new code came into force on Thursday, but no statement was released to either the media or the legal profession.

However later on the order was withdrawn:

AN order which would have allowed the police to detain suspects indefinitely without charge has been withdrawn.

Acting Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur said that the amendment, approved by Home Affairs Minister Wendy Kinnard, was badly worded and it was never intended that it should allow indefinite detention.

I think this shows the wisdom of replacing rule by decree with parliamentary democracy…

Is “42 days” preferable to “28 days” plus thresholding?

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:05 pm on 18 June, 2008.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
Edit This Permalink to this article

Update: TD reminds me that the 3 people charged at 27 and 28 days referred to by Hindle were released without further suspicion.

Gary Hindle, writing in the Guardian, defends the 42 days proposals and claims they are more respecting of civil liberties than the current arrangements. I argue that the argument Hindle puts forward to claim that “42 days” better protects civil liberties than present arrangements does not hold water.

If nothing else, it seems to me that the low threshold charges he refers could be laid towards the end of 42 days, just as they can be laid towards the end of the current 28 day detention period, thus extending the period in which a person can be held without sufficient evidence against them to charge for longer than current arrangements allow.

I fail to see how that protects civil liberties better than the current arrangements when the evidential test for extending detention is the same test as the one allowing a low threshold charge. The detailed argument follows.

(more…)

Why David Davis’s stand is important

On Wednesday, not only did the government win the “42 days” votes, but prior to that opinion polls were published which suggested the public supported the government’s line on the issue.

As someone deeply opposed to the erosion of civil liberties, both of these events would be depressing events for David Davis. They also point to a wider depressing fact about the political climate in Britain. For many years now, the idea that one must erode civil liberties in order to be “tough”, or at least to be seen to be “tough”, on crime and on terrorism has influenced both the government’s political strategy, the media’s handling of the issues and many people’s perceptions of the issues.

We have had draconian measure after draconian measure pushed onto the statute books, and part of the argument against the opponents is that by opposing these measures they are being “soft” on crime and terrorism. It’s not merely a party-political thing but something that permeates the political arena generally.

And it seems to me that whilst the current government is likely to lose the next election, it is not clear that this is because people are outraged over eroded civil liberties. The issues of “spin”, sleaze and sheer incompetence on the part of this government are the more likely candidates for explaining their poor showings in the polls at this point. Civil liberties concerns may have contributed to the poor showings to some degree, but not yet as a major factor, as far as I can tell.

Thus the idea that standing up for civil liberties means being “soft” on crime or terrorism, holds enough sway in the media and with the public, that it will hamper any efforts of a would-be Home Secretary (or PM) to halt and reverse the erosion of civil liberties Davis refers to. It will need to be confronted if any lasting changes to strengthen civil liberties are to be made. I suspect it’s why, whilst we’ve heard some encouraging noises from the Tories (e.g. pledges to scrap the national identity scheme), it’s also why Cameron’s approach on these issues has had a cautious air to it.

By resigning his seat and fighting the by-election on a civil liberties platform, David Davis has created an opportunity for this idea to be challenged, and the political climate changed, before the next general election is held, thus giving an incoming Tory government a freer hand to strengthen civil liberties than would otherwise have been the case.

Thus the opportunity here is to alter the political landscape that the shadow cabinet and probable next government will be operating in, to strengthen the hand of those who believe in civil liberties. This seems to me to be Davis’s intention.

Because it involves thinking and acting outside the currently normal parameters of the Westminster “bubble”, I think those in the media and in politics who have been attacking him are misunderstanding the nature of what he is doing (or possibly understand too well and don’t like it).

But there is also a risk here for the cause of civil liberties. Suppose Davis loses his by-election. Won’t that damage the cause? I think it would, potentially seriously so and this is an outcome to be avoided.

I suspect he’ll win though. Nevertheless, I think anyone who believes in civil liberties should help Davis fight this fight, and make the debate on civil liberties he’s called for become a reality. By doing so, they will give this opportunity to alter the political landscape in favour of civil liberties the best possible chance of succeeding.

Buy David Davis a pint…

…suggests the Pub Philosopher. I may well heed his advice. He makes the following case:

At last, we may be about to have a proper debate on civil liberties in the UK. In the past couple of days I have heard about conversations in pubs, clubs, churches and round family dinner tables, discussing the DNA database, ID cards, curbs on free speech and the erosion of privacy. Previously, it seemed, these were just the hobby-horses of curmudgeonly old bloggers.

Whatever you think of David Davis, he hasn’t just got us all talking about these issues, he’s somehow made it OK to get angry about them too. He has provided a channel for a pent-up frustration that many people have felt for some time. For that alone he deserves our thanks. If I ever meet David Davis, the first round is on me.

I’d add that the whole thing is worth reading.

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