It was never going to be long before the Tories noticed NuLabour were trying to outflank them on law & order from the right and decided to do something about it. The ConDems have decided to ‘anonymise’ DNA samples the authorities hold of people who have been arrested but never convicted of a crime:
One of its key features of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, we were assured by Nick Clegg in January, would be an end to the “indefinite storage of innocent people’s DNA”.
That seemed to be an unambiguous promise, and a welcome one. Unfortunately, as The Daily Telegraph reveals today, the Government has decided not to keep this promise, bringing the number of policy U-turns to at least 14.
Instead of clearly and simply wiping out the DNA of more than one million people who have been arrested but not convicted, the authorities will retain the samples, but in an “anonymised” state.
This means that the names and other identifying features will be removed from the police database but kept elsewhere, enabling agencies with the right expertise to join the pieces of data together again and identify the DNA.
In the clumsy but revealing phrase of James Brokenshire, a Home Office minister, the genetic information will “be considered to have been deleted”.
Considered by whom? Certainly not by civil liberties groups, which have accused the Government of betraying an explicit commitment in the Coalition Agreement and ignoring a judgment of the Court of Human Rights.
Back we trot to the database state, which would always reform under different guises, with different agendas in play. The motive here seems to be straightforward party political – splitting Ed Miliband from his authoritarian underlings, whilst snubbing the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to please the right wing of the Tories. We deserve better politics than this, but there seem to be very few politicians in the British parliament who have any interest whatsoever with the rule of law. You’d think with the influence of Murdoch waning that you’d have one or two MPs shrieking with outrage at the injustice of it, no longer that worried about a NOTW campaign against them, but no – the cowardice lives on.
It’s about time, isn’t it? Cameron doesn’t like it but he’s going to allow at least some prisoners to vote:
Prisoners are to get the right to vote as the government is poised to throw in the towel in a long-running legal tussle with the European court of human rights, it emerged today.
It is understood that the coalition is to confirm that it is ready to change the law to remove the voting ban on more than 70,000 inmates of British jails.
The move comes after government lawyers advised that failure to comply with a 2004 ECHR ruling could cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds in litigation costs and compensation.
David Cameron was said to be “exasperated and furious” at having to accept that there was no way of keeping the UK’s 140-year-old blanket ban on sentenced prisoners voting.
There was no official confirmation of the decision to drop the ban, but a representative of the government is expected to signal the move in a statement to the court of appeal tomorrow.
I’d like to make two points: firstly that Nick Clegg had signalled that he was going to change this voluntarily, but never did; it makes the leak of Cameron’s opinion quite curious. Just two months ago the ConDems were voluntarily admitting that responsibility for complying with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was passing to the Deputy Prime Minister, but the focus seems to have shifted and the coalition now sounds reluctant to change. Secondly I personally don’t believe in any limitation on voting rights at all – I don’t think there are any conditions under which you should lose the right to representation. Obviously the government won’t go down that path, but I hope they’ll literally just limit the ban to lifers without parole – everyone else after all will be expected to rejoin society. Sending them the message they’re not welcome to, by removing their right to representation, sort of makes rehabilitation through prison kind of meaningless, no?
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform suggests:
“If we want prisoners to return safely to the community, feeling they have a stake in society, then the right to vote is a good means of engaging individuals with the responsibilities of citizenship,” she said.
“We understand the Government is still looking at excluding some prisoners from voting, in particular prisoners serving sentences of four years or more.
“One way the Government could enfranchise this group would be to link their plans to make long-sentenced prisoners work and pay tax to voting rights, as taxation and representation should ideally go hand in hand.”
Prison reformers have welcomed reports that Nick Clegg is to move to end the ban on prisoners taking part in elections, despite the government being compelled to do so after a European judgment.
A report in the Times of the deputy prime minister’s backing for enfranchising prisoners surprised penal reformers because it follows strong criticism last week from the Council of Europe on the government’s failure to abide by a 2005 European Court of Human Rights ruling that the ban was unlawful.
The Cabinet Office confirmed today that responsibility for prisoners’ voting rights was moved in July from Ken Clarke’s justice ministry to the office of the deputy prime minister, which is in charge of electoral reform. A spokesperson said the issue had been given “active consideration” over the summer, but would not say that that consideration was continuing.
Lord McNally, the Liberal Democrat justice minister, promised a House of Lords debate in June that the coalition was “looking afresh” at ways of lifting the ban and would report by September. McNally told a fringe meeting at the party’s conference in Liverpool this weekend that the government now intended to comply by December.
Good. It’s about bloody time. I’ve never comprehended how as a society we can tolerate removing prisoners’ rights to vote. If prison is supposed to be (at least in principle) a place for offenders to be rehabilitated, what message does it send them when they are excluded by the prime means of representation in the society they’re supposed (eventually) to be released back into? For that matter do they not have the right to representation as prisoners? Should their needs not be catered for by the political system? I agree that they should be. Controversial it may be, but I also believe that all prisoners should be represented, even lifers. They may be taken out of mainstream society, but they still have human rights and thus needs which deserve to be represented.
I wonder if this’ll generate any comments?
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has asked us to tell him what laws need repealing:
He’s a brave man, I’ll give him that. But the answers are there in front of his face. Let’s start with the case of Jules Mattson:
On Saturday 26 June, photojournalist Jules Mattsson, who is a minor and was documenting the Armed Forces Day parade in Romford, was questioned and detained by a police officer after taking a photo of young cadets.
According to Mattsson, who spoke to BJP this morning, after taking the photo he was told by a police officer that he would need parental permission for his image. The photographer answered that, legally, he didn’t. While he tried to leave the scene to continue shooting, a second officer allegedly grabbed his arm to question him further.
According an audio recording of the incident, the police officer argued, at first, that it was illegal to take photographs of children, before adding that it was illegal to take images of army members, and, finally, of police officers. When asked under what legislation powers he was being stopped, the police officer said that Mattsson presented a threat under anti-terrorism laws. The photographer was pushed down on stairs and detained until the end of the parade and after the intervention of three other photographers.
Now I know Jules. He’s a good kid and a superb, passionate photographer, and this is is just appalling. Want proof? He recorded it:
The debate about the Metropolitan (and City) Police’s abuse of Section 44 has been waged many times and the arguments have been made more times than I can be bothered to think. But it’s now, once and for all, conclusively been ruled in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights:
In January 2010 the European Court held that section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (the broad police power to stop and search without suspicion) violates the right to respect for private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights (Gillan and Quinton v. UK4158/05  ECHR 28 (12 January 2010)). The claimants received £500 each by way of compensation.
The European Court has now rejected the UK’s application to appeal to the court’s Grand Chamber, meaning that the decision is final. This leaves stop and search powers in further disarray. The Home Secretary has already announced an “urgent review” of the powers after the recent admission by the Home Office that thousands of individual searches had been conducted illegally.
It’s clear that Section 44 has to go, but the risk remains that Clegg uses this scheme either to get the country to vent about laws they don’t like, or simply to delete specific laws without confronting the trends and behaviours which led to them in the first place. The cops who attacked Jules Mattson didn’t just cite Section 44 to try to stop him taking perfectly lawful photos – they made all sorts of garbage up in order to intimidate him into not taking photos. There is an institutional prejudice within the ranks against photographers, which was channelled by Section 44, and which would be much harder to root out and stop. New Labour made it abundantly clear they didn’t care one iota about the Met’s excesses. Time will tell if Theresa May cares any more, and this is what I want Nick Clegg to understand and tackle, more than anything.
So this is the important bit in the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech, promising a bright, new, un-authoritarian future, with:
Landmark legislation, from politicians who refused to sit back and do nothing while huge swathes of the population remained helpless against vested interests.
Who stood up for the freedom of the many, not the privilege of the few.
A spirit this government will draw on as we deliver our programme for political reform: a power revolution.
A fundamental resettlement of the relationship between state and citizen that puts you in charge.
‘Much in this new Government statement accords with the BHA’s policies we set out in our own manifestos ahead of the election and with the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We particularly welcome moves to increase freedom of speech, and a reformed House of Lords which, by being fully elected, would necessarily remove the right of Bishops to sit in our second chamber.’
‘We also look forward to making our case for the repeal and revision of unjust, restrictive and discriminatory laws, such as those which require compulsory worship on our school children – a clear violation of their freedom of conscience – and those which unfairly restrict the right to free speech and protest.’
I think Copson is generally right but there are serious problems here. Clegg’s ideas are laudable, but there are as yet no indications as to how he thinks he’ll implement them – moving children of asylum seekers from one detention centre to another (particularly one with a notorious reputation) is not a remotely adequate solution. Much of the push towards ID cards came from within the civil service itself, and there is still an entrenched authoritarian culture in government agencies which needs urgent tackling; just yesterday the new government took the same stand on control orders as its predecessor.
I don’t just expect a repeal of New Labour’s surveillance state laws, I expect a change in culture to uphold the rule of law and to abide by evidence-based policy making. That means not just accepting the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling on the National DNA Database, but abiding by rulings against denying prisoners the vote and on the legality of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. I’m worried that now in government Clegg is going to pick and choose what works for him and what doesn’t and not challenge the vested interests, defeat of whom really would make the “most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th Century” much more than overexcited hyperbole.
Two days ago I cross-posted that photographer Grant Smith had yet again been abused by police under Section 44, going about his entirely lawful business. Today it looks like he may sue them:
He said: “They took away my camera, notebook and phone so I could not record what they were doing. I thought their reaction was completely disproportionate. I found it was a publicly humiliating experience. It was a bit like being mugged by teenagers.”
Mr Smith said he was consulting lawyers about the legality of the stop.
A City of London Police spokesman said: “A man was spoken to by officers on Monday after police were called by security personnel. He was later searched under terrorism powers.”
One officer commented: “There are hundreds of people who take photographs in the City every day and they do not have any issues. Sometimes it would be helpful if people responded when asked what their business was.
“The risk of terrorism is always there and we do not intend to drop our guard.”
Dropping their guard, when there’s never been a terrorist on earth who’d been so batshit insane as to stand in front of a building with a DSLR with the intention of later blowing it up? Utter garbage – Smith had already stated his business, and the police had no right to interfere with it, nor even to stop him. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 has been ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and the police have been repeatedly warned by ACPO not to abuse it in this way. Time will tell whether the allegedly civil liberties-friendly ConDem coalition responds positively to the ECHR. In the meantime I hope Smith sues the City police to death, because I don’t see them or their Metropolitan counterparts changing for anyone.
The government has for months ignored the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) ruling that its policy of indefinite retention of the DNA of people not convicted of a crime was illegal. Home Secretary Alan Johnson today played further mischief with the human rights of hundreds and thousands of entirely innocent people, purely for partisan political advantage in the pre-general election ‘wash up’ period:
The Conservatives have dropped their opposition to the government’s crime and security bill, including its controversial provisions to allow the police to retain the DNA profiles of innocent people for up to six years.
Instead of blocking the bill, the shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, made a fresh commitment that the Tories would bring in early legislation to ensure the DNA profiles of innocent people arrested for minor offences would not be retained on the national police DNA database.
“We will not seek to block this bill because the indefinite retention of innocent people’s DNA is unacceptable and has been ruled illegal,” said Grayling.He added that on taking office the Conservatives would also change the official guidance to the police, to give people the automatic right to have their DNA withdrawn from the database if have been wrongly accused of a minor crime.The decision follows a threat by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to ditch the DNA provisions of the crime and security bill entirely, unless the Conservatives dropped their opposition to keeping profiles of innocent people on the database for up to six years.
Johnson said this morning he would pull all provisions from the amendment bill today if the Tories refuse to assent to the government’s plans. The bill is destined for this afternoon’s wash-up session to complete the government’s legislative programme ahead of the dissolution of parliament for the election.
Johnson told Sky News: “This is a basic example of how they [the Tories] talk tough on crime but act soft.”
I don’t normally use strong language on this blog, but what a cynical bastard the Home Secretary is. He’d rather play politics with one of the most important human rights issues in Britain today, and keep the country in breach of the Court’s ruling, instead of ensuring there was a system of appeal for people even to argue for their removal from the database. Yet more undemocratic game playing in the ‘wash up’ period by a government which has presided over the most out-of-touch, corrupt and inept parliament in living memory. The right to privacy and the presumption of innocence are commodities too precious to use as electioneering bargaining chips. When will this abuse end?
Watch these two videos of campaigner Charlie Veitch being stopped by the Metropolitan Police under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, despite having demonstrably not broken a single law. A comedian speaking loudly through a megaphone is now longer a lawful reason under the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling to stop and search people on anti-terrorism grounds, but watch the exchange. It’s quite revealing:
Sir Ian Blair, the Met Commissioner who defended his force after its murder of Jean Charles de Menezes has attacked the European Court of Human Rights for declaring Section 44 of the Terrorism Act in contravention with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR):
It is important to understand that the power granted by this legislation is entirely different to that provided for stop and search for drugs, stolen goods and weapons. For those offences, police have to have reasonable suspicion that an individual may have such items upon them. The whole point of Section 44 is that that is not required: this is a process, akin to an airport search, designed to make clear to terrorists that they are at risk, however covert their behaviour, of being searched and having their details logged at random.
Were the power to be abolished or unduly curtailed in its application – although as Lord Carlile suggests, there may be merit in a limited review following this judgment – two consequences are likely. The first is that it would be almost inevitable that police officers would, as a pragmatic solution, begin to target these kind of searches much more closely on the particular community from which the current threat is seen mainly but not exclusively to come, young Muslims, with all the increase in alienation that would engender. Inconvenience shared must be preferable. Second, and avoidably, Britain would simply be less safe.
What a complete and utter idiot. Inconvenience shared? Britain less safe? What on earth is this madman going on about? The inconvenience is far from shared:
Last year it was revealed that since May 2007 the number of searches under section 44 powers had risen by 322% for black people, 277% for Asian people, but only 185% for white people. The result was that police reportedly increased the searches in order to balance racial quotas, in one instance mounting an operation at the entrance of the British Library in London.
I myself have been on the receiving end of a search, when I was taking entirely lawful photos in an entirely lawful place. When I complained about the search the Met officer admitted they had only stopped me because I was white, and in that borough most of their stops were Asian or black. It’s also not remotely clear what benefit Section 44 has actually had. How on earth would losing arbitrary power to stop and search, which is frequently abused actually make the country less safe? By no longer stopping photographers taking photos of tall buildings? I can’t believe this blithering idiot was actually in charge of the Metropolitan Police. The ECHR accepts that this power is arbitrary, is thus used arbitrarily and as a result breaks our human right of privacy. Bizarrely as Porter says, the same government which introduced the Human Rights Act, has decided to appeal the court’s ruling.
The use of Stop & Search without grounds for suspicion has been ruled illegal by European Court of Human Rights. This ruling from Strasbourg comes as thousands of photographers are set to gather in London on Saturday 23rd January to take mass action to defend their right to photograph after a series of high profile detentions under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act.
These included the detention by seven police of an award winning architectural photographer in the City of London, the arrest of a press photographer covering a protest at City Airport and the Stop & Search of a BBC photographer outside St Paul’s Cathedral.
Our society’s visual history is under threat of extinction by anti-terrorism legislation. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act has in effect ended the confidence of the citizen to engage in the act of photography in a public place as photographers, artists and illustrators, amateur and professional are harassed by police invoking terrorism legislation to stop and search them. The act of documenting our street scenes and public life, our built environment, whether iconic or not, is now considered to be an act of hostile reconnaissance and could result in the detention of the image-maker.
The Mass Photo Gathering has been called by the campaign group I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist! which has over 9000 followers on Facebook.
12 Noon. 23 January.
The European Court of Human Rights may have ruled it illegal to hold DNA profiles of innocent people on the national database, but that hasn’t stopped the Home Office:
More than 90,000 innocent people have been added to the national DNA database since a landmark human rights ruling that keeping indefinitely the profiles of unconvicted suspects was illegal, according to new figures.
The disclosure comes as the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is pressing the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to withdraw guidance to chief constables to carry on collecting DNA profiles of innocent people. It says it will take enforcement action if the chief constables fail to act.
Liberal Democrat research, based on parliamentary answers, shows that 433, 752 profiles have been added to the DNA database since the ruling by the European court of human rights in Strasbourg on 5 December last year – the equivalent of 1,480 a day.
It’s unthinkable that ACPO – a for-profit advisory body should have the power to be able to instruct chief constables to defy the court’s ruling, and heartening that the EHRC has decided to do something about it:
The EHRC has given ACPO 28 days to confirm that the advice to chief constables will be withdrawn and replaced by advice that complies with the law. If ACPO fails to do this, the commission will consider taking formal enforcement action.
The Home Office repeatedly insists on the importance of the database, yet over the last year the number of detections as a result of matches to it fell, whilst its cost doubled to £4.2 million. It pointedly doesn’t comment on why, under those circumstances, there is a need to breach human rights law by continuing to store profiles of innocent people.