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This page provides occasional items, linked to the original articles, as we attempt to keep up with the rapidly changing situation on civil liberties.
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1st Jan to 9th Sept 2005


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.

Ms Saward’s article states:

Anybody who has seen television programmes showing footage obtained by Closed Circuit Television Cameras will be concerned that what was introduced for public safety is being abused. Safeguards can, and must, be put into place to ensure that CCTV is used solely for what it was intended - crime prevention and detection.

But David Davis wants to abolish it.

This isn’t true. Davis has not called for the abolition of CCTV. On the contrary, as Shadow Home Secretary he called for CCTV to be regulated, both to improve its quality when it is used, to make it usable as evidence in court, and to protect people’s privacy otherwise:

“Conservatives would ensure any CCTV has to be maintained at sufficiently high standard to provide evidence admissible in court.

“We would also strictly limit access to these images to the police and other relevant agencies until they get to court, and set a mandatory punishment for breaches of these rules that infringe the privacy of the individual.”

CCTV remains largely unregulated to this day. Note that this position is very close to the position laid out by Saward in the first paragraph of the quotation above. It is also close to my own position on the use of CCTV.

Later, Saward attacks Davis over the issue of the DNA database:

David Davis appears to be very concerned about “British liberty.” But what does it mean? I want men and women - including children - to be at liberty to walk the streets of our towns and cities without fear of violence in general - and sexual violence in particular; and to feel safe in their own homes and workplaces.

And part of that “British liberty” is to expect the law enforcement agencies to use every tool at their disposal to catch the people responsible for the attack - and to never give up.

The National DNA Database has done just that. There have been numerous occasions when rapists have been convicted years after the attack - simply because, when the trail and investigation had gone cold, the DNA profile of the attacker had been retained. And when the rapist had been arrested years later, for something completely unrelated - the routine DNA test had provided a match.

Surely this is a good thing? This ensures our freedom, and our liberty. But Mr Davis wants to do away with it. If anything we should be expanding the national DNA database so that everybody’s DNA is on it.

Again this claim is not true. Davis has never proposed abolishing the DNA database. He’s expressed concern about the large numbers of innocent people who now have their DNA permanently stored on it. E.g. from his resignation speech:

And we will have shortly the most intrusive identity card system in the world. A CCTV camera for every 14 citizens, a DNA database bigger than any dictatorship has, with thousands of innocent children and millions of innocent citizens on it.

Of course, Saward believes everyone should have their DNA on this database, so there is a real disagreement between the two candidates here. My position is close to that of David Davis. I’ll deal in more detail with the DNA database in another article, but I’ll make 4 points here:

  • If everyone is on the DNA database, then it reduces the evidential value of DNA in many crimes, since the strategy of planting someone’s DNA at the scene of the crime to throw the police off the scent is more likely to work and consume police resources than if only convicted criminals and those who are under investigation are on it.
  • Given the probability of a false match is roughly 1 in 5 million, storing everyone’s DNA example means you’ll get several false matches in a population of millions of people, again reducing the evidential value of DNA.
  • As David Davis points out in his response to Saward, only 0.4% of recorded crimes involve DNA matches, which suggests that expanding the DNA database will only have a small impact on the number of crimes solved.
  • The storing of the DNA samples constitutes storing information about people’s genetic make-up, that is medically sensitive. The threat to people’s privacy the DNA database constitutes must be balanced against its benefits in terms of fighting crime. In my view, storing the DNA of everyone (as Saward suggests), or of anyone who’s ever arrested (as is current policy), simply fails to take this privacy issue adequately into account.

Moving on, Saward also writes:

And yet at the same time, the issue of rape and sexual violence is something that affects the freedoms and liberties of thousands upon thousands of people - mainly women - each year. So you would assume that as Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis would have had something to say on the subject.

You’d be wrong!

Yet again, Saward is mistaken about Davis. From Davis’s response to Saward:

During my tenure as Shadow Home Secretary, we launched a review of rape sentencing and pledged additional funding for rape crisis centers. I pioneered a campaign, and secured changes in the law, to stamp out human trafficking, the horrific trade that leads to the rape and sexual abuse of young women and children.

On the Tories’ review of rape sentencing, see this.

On the issue of human trafficking, Davis secured a change in Tory party policy on this, which the government later adopted.

From this it seems clear to me that Davis has given this issue more attention than Saward is suggesting.

Saward makes the following claim:

David Davis wants to debate “British Liberties” on the basis of the 42 day pre-charge detention, national DNA database and the use of CCTV.

These 3 issues are only part of what Davis is talking about. In his resignation speech, he also mentions issues such as the National Identity Scheme, the rise of the “database state” exposing our personal information to official snoopers, the attacks on jury trial, shortcuts added to our justice system and the curbs on the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech.

To characterise Davis’s stand as being about a few specific issues is to miss the entire point of his resignation and subsequent campaign. The whole point is to highlight and oppose the “slow strangulation of fundamental freedoms” this government has been engaging in during its decade or so in power. I refer readers to this article, the movie “Taking Liberties” and more recent articles in this blog for detail on this, but for now I’ll point out we’ve seen assaults on freedom ranging from people being barred from protesting outside Parliament (with the result of someone getting arrested for reciting the names of the Iraq war dead at the Cenotaph) to local councils using snooping powers ostensibly aimed at combatting terrorism and serious crime for trivial offences such as littering. Davis should be applauded for raising the profile of this erosion of freedom.

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