Laurie Penny reported directly from the London #dayx #demo2010 second national student protest against the proposed massive hike in university tuition fees and budget cuts:
Outside Downing Street, in front of a line of riot police, I am sitting beside a makeshift campfire. It’s cold, and the schoolchildren who have skipped classes gather around as a student with a three-string guitar strikes up the chords to Tracy Chapman’s Talkin Bout a Revolution. The kids start to sing, sweet and off-key, an apocalyptic choir knotted around a small bright circle of warmth and energy. “Finally the tables are starting to turn,” they sing, the sound of their voices drowning out the drone of helicopters and the screams from the edge of the kettle. “Finally the tables are starting to turn.”
Then a cop smashes into the circle. The police shove us out of the way and the camp evaporates in a hiss of smoke, forcing us forward. Not all of us know how we got here, but we’re being crammed in with brutal efficiency: the press of bodies is vice-tight and still the cops are screaming at us to move forward. Beside me, a schoolgirl is crying. She is just 14.
Let me make this clear: children were being kettled. What do I mean by ‘kettled’? Here:
@PME200 To anyone not aware what “Kettling” is, it’s being trapped by armed police without food/water & being forced to piss or crap yourself. Nice.
Now why would the Metropolitan Police end up kettling children in freezing temperatures at night? It all seems to hinge around the attack on the police van:
Why was the van there, and was it there deliberately to draw out the violent protesters? Steven Sumpter believes so:
During the protests in London today the police stated that they had started “containing” the crowds after they violently attacked a police van. I contend that the van was deliberately planted in order to provide an excuse.
At around 12:30 I started watching BBC News which as showing live footage of the protests from a helicopter. The police were already blocking the route of the planned march with a huge amount of vehicles and offices. I watched that van be driven through the crowd from behind, angering all the people that had to jump out of the way. It was quickly surrounded by furious protesters and forced to stop. A little later, a few (unknown) people started to attack the van, trying to break the windows, roll the van over and paint graffiti on it. Some brave kids tried to stop the attacks, but were eventually pushed aside.
[But] there is something really interesting about this van.
- It has no number plates
- It is painted in the OLD livery of the Metropolitan police.
- It has been out of service long enough to get rusty.
He might be right. Emma Rubach offers the case of Canada’s G20 policing:
Protesters were led to or allowed to march or run past bait cars (police cruisers abandoned in the middle of Toronto streets) and one was definitely trashed and burned fairly quickly according to media reports. A man has been taken into custody.
The other bait cars were left mysteriously abandoned in the street for a long period. In one video peaceful protesters are seen sitting on a car and hanging around it, doing nothing violent at all. No police show up to claim it in a city downtown where you can’t walk down many streets without fear of search and arrest. Then the video shows a suspected agent provocateur wearing an expensive jacket appear. He jumps on the hood and bounces the car, asks a peaceful protester to move aside. Kicks out the windshield with a steel toed boot. He then goes on top and smashes the lights. People oppose him verbally, he studies his work from the street then others appear (rather shadowy in the video) helping him as he sets up the interior of the car. Likely for later burning. And it appears that the burning was set to be done from the inside. That gas tanks of these cars were likely left at the near the empty mark.
So it appears bait cars were placed, but they didn’t rely entirely on protesters to simply burn them. They had police agents on the ground to make sure it was done. Other activist video shows protesters or police agents dressed in black (it’s hard to be sure) setting up a couple police cars by slowly setting fires in their interiors. Again, the cars were simply left in the street as bait or decoys and no police attempt to save their own equipment. Whether police agents or protesters destroyed the cars, it makes little difference. There is such a thing as entrapment. If police know that by leaving a car abandoned in the middle of the street on a protest route will eventually lead to it being vandalized. They have in fact entrapped the vandal, who otherwise may have done nothing. In this case it is worse because with 20,000 police and riot police they could have easily pulled the cars out quickly.
In Toronto in times when people take to the streets, like soccer fans or whatever. Police do put cruisers at a slant to block the road and the two officers stand outside by the car. Never do they abandon it, and if they had to they would put in a quick call and the police cavalry would come to the rescue. At the G20 they just put cars out and left.
Look at how things do appear to add up. Here’s the van surrounded by the crowd:
And here’s a little evidence of agents provocateurs:
@simoncollister Just seen plain clothes cop get himself out of the kettle. Agent prov?
But what of the rest of the crowd? Alex Thomson adds another crucial perspective:
The word from protesters in Whitehall was that the police left their transit there as “bait” for the protest to turn nasty. The reality of it is that it became surrounded by the march and a number of officers were lucky to get out without serious injury.
Never mind this debate though. What I saw perfectly encapsulates today: a group of students, so young as to still be in school uniform, surrounded said van and persuaded the half-hearted and under-equipped would-be attackers to leave the thing alone.
As far as I am aware it is still there with a new gloss of grafitti and various swear words. But it has not been burned. Your average west Belfast teenager might look upon all this as the rather genteel affair that in truth it was.
Here are the kids who stopped the attack on the van:
Yet the police kettled (and attacked) them all:
@new1deas Police detaining students/schoolchildren for 4 hours pre-emptively, not allowing them to move.
@CarolineLucas Just raised point of order in HoC about kettling of schoolchildren for hours today in freezing cold, asking for Home Sec be questioned
For the record PennyRed is the Laurie Penny whose report I’ve quote from at the top of this post. Given the evidence, what possible justification could there have been for such a severe response? The Met said:
“The containment continues in Whitehall to prevent further criminal damage,” the Met said in a statement.
So it looks pretty likely that they set the van up for attack, might well have provoked darker elements in the crowd to attack it, then giving them justification (in their eyes) to attack back and kettle everyone. Kettling has been judged (domestically) to be legal, but the ECHR has yet to rule on whether or not it breaches human rights law. Given that peacefully protesting children were held for hours, into the night, and in the freezing cold, you can’t help but wonder what the final ruling might be. Aside from that, the Met’s tactics were utterly counter-productive:
Research into how people behave at demonstrations, sports events, music festivals and other mass gatherings shows not only that crowds nearly always act in a highly rational way, but also that when facing an emergency, people in a crowd are more likely to cooperate than panic. Paradoxically, it is often actions such as kettling that lead to violence breaking out. Often, the best thing authorities can do is leave a crowd to its own devices.
Laurie Penny offers a positive perspective on the civil engagement of the protesting kids nonetheless:
But just because there are no leaders here doesn’t mean there is no purpose. These kids – and most of them are just kids, with no experience of direct action, who walked simultaneously out of lessons across the country just before morning break – want to be heard. “Our votes don’t count,” says one nice young man in a school tie. The diversity of the protest is extraordinary: white, black and Asian, rich and poor. Uniformed state-school girls in too-short skirts pose by a plundered police van as their friends take pictures, while behind them a boy in a mask holds a placard reading “Burn Eton”.
“We can’t even vote yet,” says Leyla, 14. “So what can we do? Are we meant to just sit back while they destroy our future and stop us going to university? I wanted to go to art school, I can’t even afford A-levels now without EMA [education maintenance allowance]“.
But the Met, having completely bungled their response to the previous protest, seem to want to make it clear they don’t want a repeat. Led this time by the infamous Bob Broadhurst (who was responsible for their disastrous G20 effort), the only logical interpretation of their tactics was that they terrorised the kids deliberately, having generated an excuse to get away with it in front of the mainstream media and in the face of social media’s even closer view. And why (apart from restoring some wounded pride)? Take a look at the political response to yesterday’s protest:
Michael Gove, the education secretary, has urged the media to deny violent student protesters the “oxygen of publicity” as he called for the “full force of the criminal law” to be applied to activists “smashing windows” to make their point.
Gove evoked the language of former Tory premier Margaret Thatcher as he made clear his fury at demonstrators involved in skirmishes as thousands of students took part in demonstrations staged around the country today in protest against higher tuition fees and university budget cuts.
Gove has said he won’t budge at all on the tuition fee hike, and now has the advantage of the police trying to crush student resistance to his policy, supported by a Home Secretary who has no problem whatsoever with their violent, unjustified behaviour. As at G20, there was a political strategy here; the Met’s behaviour was no accident. Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has today said:
He added that, in the future “we are going to be much more cautious. We are into a different period I am afraid. We will be putting far more assets in place to ensure we can respond properly. Essentially the game has changed”.
and by all accounts I’ve seen completely misrepresented the Met’s response to distressed, kettled protesters:
Sir Paul acknowledged that letting people out from the cordon last night was “frustratingly slow” but “water and toilets were requested and delivered”.
Spin and cooperation with the government like that sets a chilling precedent for the cuts and price hikes to come.
When Christians, Jews and others feel that the ideology of human rights is threatening their freedoms of association and religious practice, a tension is set in motion that is not healthy for society, freedom or Britain. Rather than regard the Pope’s remarks as an inappropriate intervention, we should use them to launch an honest debate on where to draw the line between our freedom as individuals and our freedom as members of communities of faith. One should not be purchased at the cost of the other.
It’s the same logic which Lillian Ladele and others have tried to justify, but he masks it in the language of human rights. But look how he misuses it:
We all have an interest in freedom, the freedom to act differently from others. Indeed, at the core of human rights is a religious proposition: that we are all, regardless of colour, creed or culture, in the image of God.
No. At the core of human rights is a proposition that we’re all equally deserving of fundamental dignity and rights. It’s a secular argument, which presumes that we’re all entitled to the same treatment before civil law, which in turn should protect those things equally for everyone, and under all circumstances. So when he suggests that human rights threaten freedom of religion he’s operating under an entirely false premise. Human rights don’t threaten the right to religious association, but they do presume that no organisation or association has the right to discriminate against people for being gay. And religion is far from fundamentally predicated on the right to discriminate, which Ratzinger clearly believes to be the case. The government ultimately remains short sighted in having allowed this clash to happen, and to continue. Having equality legislation which equates inherent characteristics such as age or gender with the imagined quality of belief makes a mockery of equality. Human rights are not about justifying discrimination or legitimising bigotry.
Some people say there’s no reason to worry about the Tories and their threat to repeal the Human Rights Act. After all they aren’t considering pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights (which would be a grave development indeed), so surely it’s just a reformulation of rights and responsibilities, the likes of which Jack Straw is already considering? It seems their threat is downright dangerous:
Here’s what he told the Politics Show:
The moment a burglar steps over your threshold, and invades your property, with all the threat that gives to you, your family and your livelihood, I think they leave their human rights outside.
Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling has previously denied that a Tory government would provide householders with a “licence to kill” but Cameron’s words appear to promise just that.
The principled case against this position is that it would, in theory, allow householders to murder and torture burglars and thus endorse mob rule. The pragmatic case against it is that it could actually increase the danger to the public. As Jenni Russell recently argued in the Sunday Times, burglars who are aware that any break-in could result in their death are far more likely to come armed with guns or knives and be prepared to use them first.
It is simply dishonest for large sections of the right to continue to claim that the existing law does not provide individuals with a decent right to self-defence. It recognises that householders may, in extremis, use what appears to be excessive force. More sensible application of the current law (Munir Hussain should have received a suspended sentence), rather than a dangerous new law is needed.
In declaring that burglars “leave their human rights outside” Cameron, a supposedly “liberal conservative”, has adopted the language of the demagogue and the populist. He should retract his comments immediately.
He should indeed. The whole point about human rights is that they are universally applicable to all people at all times, under all circumstances. It’s an ominous sign that the likely next PM doesn’t just not believe in the rule of law, but doesn’t even comprehend human rights. Articles 1-3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reinforce their universal applicability, and it makes you wonder what Cameron wants to replace the Human Rights Act with. A Prime Minister who wilfully conflates rights under domestic criminal law with universal human rights would be a dangerous man indeed.
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.
David Cameron has long trailed his desire to repeal the Human Rights Act upon becoming Prime Minister. Conor Gearty reminds us how important human rights still are and how much of an impact the Act has yet to make:
In our bleak, post-1989 capitalist era they have become (for now) the only way of doing socialism.
When we talk about human rights these days we are often in fact discussing issues – the fight against poverty; the push for greater equality; a decent health system; greater support for developing nations – that were the common vernacular of that now largely extinct species, the international socialist. And when we see “communist” China apparently reject co-operation in Copenhagen, we cannot help but wonder whether the civil and political rights denied by the guns of Tiananmen might have made a difference.
In short, human rights are the answer to many of the seemingly intractable questions with which we are faced. The Human Rights Act has played a part in keeping the flame of universalism flickering, small for sure – but the Conservatives should not be allowed to snuff it out without a least a fight from everybody who thinks of themselves as of the left.
I don’t think the HRA has been responsible for holding the government to account on almost anything, but that doesn’t mean it’s not vitally important. Jack Straw introduced the HRA to use as a prism through which government policy was to be formed; that abundantly clearly has never been the case. But it has provided access to redress under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) through British courts, and the importance of this can’t be overstated. Cameron bleats on about how the ECHR won’t be undone, should he repeal the HRA, that Britain will still be a signatory to it. But the fundamental purpose of the HRA was to enable access to European human rights law for those who couldn’t otherwise afford to get to Strasbourg. Repeal the HRA and a majority of those who need it will be cut off, only to have what will no doubt be an ultra-nationalistic British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities (or was that Straw’s newest authoritarian wheeze?) to fall back on. Will non-British nationals be able to use it? Will Cameron decide human rights are no longer universal, and make them contingent? The signs aren’t good.
We will all have to fight tooth and nail to retain the Human Rights Act, and I hope every right-thinking person I know or who knows me will do so.
It would be unthinkable to see laws passed in Washington or EU advocating the death penalty for homosexuality, but Uganda is rushing headlong into a homophobic abyss:
The proposed law is more a rant against homosexuality and the west than a workable piece of legislation intended for Uganda itself. Much of it consists of a list of unfounded claims, starting with the statement that “same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic”. Infamously, it calls for the execution of gay men found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” – by which it means those who are HIV positive, or who have sex with someone who is under 18 or disabled. The bill may be amended during its passage through parliament to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment, but that change would be only a gesture to spare the blushes of Uganda’s aid donors. If passed – which looks likely, since its sponsor is a member of Uganda’s ruling party – the bill will continue to write hate into law.
To say that acceptance of homosexuality is a ‘liberal’ or ‘Western’ perspective is essentially to collude in the abuse of gay people around the world. Of course being gay is an innate and immutable characteristic, and to propose the death penalty for HIV positive men and jail for everyone else isn’t just immoral it’s backward. Some will say such a statement is racist, but when was it true that all Ugandans, Africans or black people were homophobic? On the contrary, considering the wide-ranging dangers the bill poses, should we not be allying ourselves with Ugandans opposed to this hate law?
David Bahati, Ndorwa County West minister of parliament, tabled the Bill saying Uganda needed comprehensive legislation to prohibit any form of sexual relations between people of the same sex.
The Bill, according to Bahati, seeks to plug gaps in the Ugandan constitution, and stipulate that marriage is between a man and a woman only. Other unions will not be recognised. And if same sex couples are married abroad, they face life imprisonment.
Practising homosexuality has been illegal in Uganda and is listed in the penal code, though police say it is hard to investigate this crime because “homosexuals operate under cover”.
But the new Bill now forces people in authority to report offences to the police within 24 hours, or they themselves will face fines or up to three years in prison.
Anyone found guilty of committing homosexuality, or advocating homosexuality to a group or assembly, will face a prison sentence. The penalties are up to 10 years in prison or a fine not exceeding $5,500 or both.
The Bill also seeks extra territorial jurisdiction and will apply to any Ugandan involved in a LGBT relationship outside of the country. The Bill also seeks to extradite any Ugandan guilty of the offences it lists.
Under the terms of Britain’s Extradition Act Uganda is covered as a category 2 territory, which, whilst not allowing the extradition of an HIV positive Ugandan, would certainly allow for the extradition of any other Ugandan covered by the country’s gay hate legislation. Should it pass, the Home Office must make it clear that the Act will not be used to allow the infringement of human rights by the Ugandan government, and separately that gay asylum seekers will under no circumstances be returned to Uganda.
This is a law attacking basic human rights and should it pass it must have consequences. The Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL) acknowledges the scope of this attack:
“In reality this would involve Uganda withdrawing from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its protocols, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.”
The Swedes, who currently hold the rotating EU presidency, and who donate $50 annually to Uganda, have said they’ll rescind their annual contribution should the law pass. Britain should not just call for the country to be immediately suspended from the Commonwealth, but she should follow Sweden’s lead.
I often find myself joining progressive and conservative politicians on platforms to talk about the erosion of civil liberties and the growth in state power. To be honest, it would be hard pressed to slide a piece of paper between Tony Benn and David Davis on so many of these issues, or for that matter Sir Ken Macdonald and Dominic Grieve. This is because one of the great divides in our post-ideological politics is now about the power of the state. Do you trust the state and give it every sort of power at the expense of parliament and the people, or do you believe that increasing state powers are not just a menace to individual liberty but a cast-iron guarantee of bad government?
This in a nutshell is the raison-d’être for this website. I firmly believe that supporters of what used to be described as left and right-leaning parties are united in their rejection of overwhelming state power to intrude, oppress and criminalise. I think Tories and real Labour supporters see entirely eye to eye on the unjustness of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which presupposes everyone is a paedophile when trying to get employed. I think they agree that the ID cards and identity regime which the Home Office wants to bring in is fundamentally dangerous, that the state shouldn’t have the power or the right to control and monitor literally every single private transaction in this country. I don’t think people who were once political enemies disagree at all that it’s fundamentally wrong for Peter Mandelson to empower any agency he likes with police powers in the name of protecting corporate ‘intellectual property’ rights, nor to kick people off the internet without any judicial involvement at all. Noone thinks stopping and searching someone for taking a photograph of a chip shop or a sunset is anything short of bonkers, and I’ve not heard anyone agree it right to extradite anyone to the United States (or anywhere for that matter) without evidence first being necessary, nor through legislation which parliament hasn’t even voted on.
The problem has been in recent years of what to do about it? As we’re in a post-partisan political world, where does your vote go? The Tories are themselves planning on curbing the right to protest and have nothing serious on the table in terms of repealing the legislation which has got us into such a fundamentally paranoid mess. But that’s not surprising -the current, neo-conservative/neo-liberal political consensus isn’t likely to result in the restoration of power to the individual – how could it? Both ideologies (essentially merged post-Bush/Blair) depend on the quashing of the power of the individual in favour of the interests of the state. It results in preemptive arrests at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, it gets non-violent protesters’ heads bashed in in Bishopsgate, it results in illegal strategic wars with the outrageous justification of “protecting ourselves”, and in the state ignoring the European Court of Human Rights in favour of a blanket support of retaining innocent people’s DNA on its national database, when it’s already been proven there’s no advantage in doing so. The binary choices we still have for the ballot boxes are entirely insufficient to alter this odious political consensus, and with more people facing preemptive criminalisation than at any previous point in modern history, the room for opponents of this consensus to maneuver is increasingly limited.
I don’t think all is lost however, and in time I hope this site helps to set about proving it. A minority is becoming ever more vocal about these abuses to our rights, despite the best efforts of our far-right, corporate-leaning press, be it the ‘I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist’ campaign, the NO2ID campaign, or the increasingly strident attacks from every angle against the ISA and Digital Economy Bill. When will it turn into a majority though? When will we start protesting en masse against the erosion of our rights and (still necessary) freedoms? Given the fear people have of our patchwork police state, and of human nature saying ‘it won’t happen to me (until it does)’, I don’t think we have immediate solutions on the table. I think we can however work across party lines, and regardless of who is in government, for constitutional reform by stealth, as both major parties start to realise there is electoral advantage in it, and then use it to constrain their behaviour. I accept that a written constitution failed to curb the excesses of the Bush Administration in America, but we have even fewer avenues of redress against the abuses of the state. The Supreme Court is there – ready and waiting – we’re just waiting for a constitution for it to get on with interpreting.
In the meantime it’s time to say ‘no’. Know your rights and use them when the state challenges them or abuses them; bring your stories here and expose this authoritarianism to an ever wider audience. But let’s also work together to aim for a proportional voting system and a written constitution as well. Of course they won’t be a panacea, but they could be one of the important missing links for those of us from all political backgrounds who oppose this corporate-driven authoritarianism which is making criminals of us all. Our informal checks and balances against government abuse have broken down in parliament – it’s time for a renewed constitutional arrangement to build broader constraints against abuses of power, and protections for the individual.
Over the span of this Labour government we’ve seen the degradation of the rule of law and attacks on evidence-based policy making, but now we have full-blown pre-criminalisation:
He said the [human genetics] commission had received evidence from a former police superintendent that it was now the norm to arrest offenders for everything possible. “It is apparently understood by serving police officers that one of the reasons, if not the reason, for the change in practice is so that the DNA of the offender can be obtained,” said Montgomery, adding that it would be a matter of very great concern if this was now a widespread practice.
The report says there is very little concrete evidence on the importance of the DNA match in leading to a conviction and whether the suspect would have been identified by other means anyway.
It argues the database creates “pre-suspects” who are the first to be checked whenever a new crime is entered. This leads to a “no smoke without fire” culture that may be pervasive and hard to overcome.
Whatever happened the presumption of innocence? How can this database have been allowed to ‘function creep’ this severely, when its to crime detection is falling, despite an exponential increase in the number of profiles retained on it? And given the way in which the database is being used, how can any of the near-million innocent people on it be confident that their genetic information won’t be misused? Over three-quarters of black men between 18 and 35 having profiles still on the database suggests something has already gone horribly wrong. There is an attitude in the criminal justice system that anything goes in avoiding risk and preventing the public from danger, but also incredible laziness by the police, who seem to think that DNA matches are the catch-all solutions to crime detection. The figures sadly prove them completely wrong. The Home Office blusters:
“DNA samples are taken on arrest for recordable offences carrying a prison sentence. The Government is clear that this is the right threshold for taking and retaining DNA. We know that the DNA database is a vital crime-fighting tool, identifying 410,589 crime scenes between 1998 and March 2009 with a DNA match and a possible lead on the possible identity of the offender.”
Yet look at the figures:
Figures show that for the past six years the number of crimes solved using DNA evidence has remained static at between 0.34 and 0.36 per cent – about one in 300 of all recorded crimes.
The number of crimes which were solved by a DNA match fell by 13 per cent to 17,614 last year as recorded crime fell overall, according to figures contained in Parliamentary answers.
Over the same period the number of people’s whose identity was on the national DNA database more than doubled in size from 1.9million people to 4.1million.
Trust the Home Office on this? I think not. Independent oversight over the National DNA Database must happen immediately. As Liberty quite rightly points out, leaving it as a tool for the police to do with as they wish is leading to abuses of people who still have the right to be presumed innocent.
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.
Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve should know better:
Dominic Grieve, the shadow justice secretary, claimed that, under Labour, the rights of criminals had been put before the “rights of law-abiding citizens”.
He said the Tories would give the police the power to tell people about prolific criminals living in their area.
“A Conservative government will free the police, probation and prison services to name offenders where necessary in order to protect the public and prevent crime,” he said.
Behaviour like this is uncharacteristic of Jack Straw’s otherwise thoughtful opposite number. It’s populism gone mad to suggest that they would give police such powers when they already have them, and downright dangerous to perpetuate the lie that human rights legislation benefits offenders more than law-abiding citizens.
Peter Oborne argues Cameron’s Tories, instead of repealing New Labour’s signature piece of legislation, should embrace it because it fits in with their traditions and ethos:
The rights set out in the act are taken directly from the European convention on human rights, which was signed by the UK in 1951. They were inspired by a Conservative politician, Sir Winston Churchill, and drafted under the guidance of another one, David Maxwell-Fyfe (later Lord Chancellor Kilmuir) in the face of considerable opposition from the Attlee government. The act should thus be regarded as the creation not of New Labour, but of the Conservative party.
Moreover, Conservative critics are wrong to say that the rights of the act are in general socioeconomic entitlements. In fact, they are absolutely fundamental to the British common law tradition. They include the right to life; the prohibition of torture, first enacted by the Long Parliament in 1640; rights to liberty and security of person; the right to a fair trial, which dates back to Magna Carta; the right to respect for private and family life; rights to freedom of expression and religion; and the right to freedom of association. These rights are not radical: they are deeply Conservative.
And finally, the act itself operates in a peculiarly Conservative way. It confers no new right that has not already been long recognised in common law, or to which parliament has not already long committed the UK. Its rights are not inviolable, but can be set aside at will. Where there is an inconsistency of law, it leaves it to parliament to decide how to resolve that inconsistency, and only if it chooses. A more Conservative approach could hardly be conceived.
Jack Straw may have tacked rightwards since the 1998 Act, but the fact remains that the European Convention on Human Rights is enshrined in British law. Repealing it wouldn’t end the ECHR, nor would it end Britain’s human rights obligations under the Convention, but it would mean countless people once again being unable to afford to access their rights. There is no need to repeal the act; the only point of creating a British-only document to replace it would be to restrict human rights on nationalistic grounds. We should all be terrified of the prospect.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson has previously insisted that his hands were tied, that he was legally unable to intervene in the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the US. However in his meeting this week with David Davis, Michael Meacher and Chris Huhne he changed his tune:
“[Johnson] did accept that it would be possible for him to intervene and that it wasn’t unlawful for him to intervene, but claimed the limits of his discretion meant he had to be governed by law and precedents,” said [Meacher's] spokesman. “He was concerned that precedents would be set for terrorists.”
In a blog post on Wednesday, Meacher said Johnson felt his scope for intervention was narrowed by Article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights, which limits interference in extradition to cases where the subject is at real risk of execution, torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment.
The three politicians came away from the meeting feeling that Johnson had been prepared to listen to their case, and that it “wasn’t the end of the road”, Meacher’s spokesman said.
The group of MPs is now trying to meet the US Ambassador to try to get the US government to withdraw extradition proceedings on human rights grounds. The Department of Public Prosecutions believes McKinnon doesn’t have a case to answer in the UK and that the case won’t stand up in a US court; Johnson should use his powers to step in and end this circus. So he believes the precedent would aid terrorists, but I don’t accept for a moment that a UFO-obsessed computer hacker with Asperger’s Syndrome is a legitimate sacrifice to the continuing ‘war on terror’.