Tag Archives: Jack Straw

Liberty Annual Conference Liveblog

Liveblogging from Liberty’s 75th annual conference.

(edit: Some content remains on my Twitter feed but will be added to a write-up which I’ll work on in a few days)

All in all a brilliant day – notable in the three way disagreement between Jack Straw, Dominic Grieve and Lord Bingham over the Human Rights Act and the impending battle which even Shami Chakrabarti herself notes is likely to be the next big war over civil liberties and human rights in this country.

Click the link for the full liveblog. Full of drama but also some very current and relevant politics. This wasn’t a talking shop – with the Secretary of State for Justice, the former Home Secretary Jack Straw, this mattered. Read and comment if you are so moved. Continue reading

Spending Squeeze – Prisons First, ID Cards Next?

This week’s budget has shown the government in its biggest financial crisis since WWII. First to get hit in public spending are prisons:

Proposals for three 2,500-capacity jails likely to be replaced with plans for five 1,500-place prisons

The government is set to abandon plans for three 2,500-capacity Titan prisons, it emerged today.

The justice secretary, Jack Straw, is instead expected to announce plans for five 1,500-place jails on Monday.

Two of those are set to go ahead immediately.

Can we get rid of the wasteful, p0intless vanity exercise which are ID cards now please? If they now stay, it will be clear that the government’s prestige is tied up uniquely in the control of the population, and that they won’t allow a small matter like the biggest recession of modern times get in the way of that. If it really is just an administrative tidy-up as they claim, then watch them go. But they won’t…

What About the Government’s Responsibilities?

Is Jack Straw’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities a diversion?

The Bill of Rights and Responsibilities would reaffirm every citizen’s right to equal health care if they become ill, decent treatment if they become a victim of crime, free education for every child and universal access to good housing.

The statement of responsibilities could include the duty to pay taxes and obey the law, as well as vote in elections, undertake jury service if summoned and treat public sector staff with respect.

Well isn’t the reason for our disconnection with the political system and one another in part down to the fact that the system doesn’t work? What about Straw’s responsibility to reform the legislature and hold the executive to account? No more adventurous wars – isn’t that something they owe us? What about Straw’s responsibility to deliver voting reform? A political system which actually represented people’s wishes – isn’t that his duty? What about reform of the House of Lords, to hold the entire House of Commons to account?

Is the level of criminality now far more to do with New Labour’s obsession with creating new criminal offenses, and even pre-criminalising us, through allowing police their future intelligence teams (FIT)? As ‘loftwork’, in the comments below this article quite rightly points out – what about David Milliband’s responsibility to tell the truth about M15 and torture? What about Straw’s own responsibility to live up to the Freedom of Information Act and not veto it when it’s politically inconvenient for him? And why should I be forced constitutionally to obey unjust laws, such as ID cards? This is a philosophical continuation on from ID cards – the state’s duty is to you, your duty is not to the state!

Government and Rights – Ignorant or Malign?

Justice Secretary Jack Straw’s has published his green paper on rights and responsibilities:

In the face of promises by David Cameron to repeal the Human Rights Act, Straw made clear that the government was proud to have introduced it: “We will not backtrack from it or repeal it. But we believe more could be done to bring out the responsibilities which accompany rights,” he said. “Any new bill of rights and responsibilities might subsume the Human Rights Act, or preserve it as a separate act.”

And this is where we return to New Labour doublespeak. Again. Great that they brought in the Human Rights Act, great that there is a commitment not to repeal it (despite their longstanding refusal to stand up for it). But in his penultimate sentence he merges citizens’ rights with human rights. Is he really saying that a future Bill of Rights would codify them alongside one another, and would that be because he’s merely conflating them or does he really just not understand the difference? Lib Dem Home Affair spokesman Chris Huhne responded to the green paper, saying:

As a political response to this populist nonsense from the Tories, the green paper muddles rights and responsibilities. Human rights (such as the right to a fair trial) are not and cannot be conditional, because by definition they are the minimum we should enjoy as human beings. So the idea that they might be made contingent on responsibilities mixes up the concept of human rights with citizens’ rights. And this is the second element of danger: when the Tories talk about a British bill of rights, instead of human rights, do they mean more or fewer rights? I think we can reach our own conclusions from the recent words of shadow home secretary Chris Grayling, who said there should be “fewer rights, more wrongs”.

He illustrates very well the dangerous area in which Straw appears to be playing. There are no responsibilities which accompany human rights – to even imply there is a need for a bill of rights and responsibilities because of some deficiency with the human rights act is in effect to trample on the importance of human rights. Citizens’ rights will always have qualifications, that’s why there is the need for an understood minimum standard of universal human rights, which the state can under no circumstances meddle with. Huhne acknowledges the push for this proposed bill has been entirely based on the Tory drive to abolish the Human Rights Act altogether – Straw needs to tread carefully not to do the Tories’ dirty work for them. If he really wants to bring together citizens’ rights, currently scattered across the legal and political landscape, he needs to make sure such a bill would be a sister project to the Human Rights Act and would fulfil an entirely different and very strategic political purpose.

Keep an Eye on Jack Straw

Justice Secretary Jack Straw appears to be backing down on elements of his Coroners and Justice Bill, in the face of tumultuous protest by the public and civil liberties groups:

Jack Straw today announced plans to amend the coroners and justice bill to limit the extent to which it could be used to allow inquests to be held in private.

The justice secretary told MPs that he was “fundamentally” recasting his plans in response to complaints from civil liberty campaigners opposed to the way the bill would allow inquests to be held without juries in cases involving sensitive information with implications for national security.

He also confirmed that proposals in the bill to allow information collected by one government department to be shared with another had been put on hold.

The operative words are ‘been put on hold’. As I’ve put in a previous post, the culture in Whitehall is now so rooted in data sharing and databases, that it’s only a matter of time before the aim of Clause 152 is reintroduced. It’s interesting that he is still responding to protest, but I fail to understand the logic or morality of having inquests held in private.

Jack Straw Defeated!

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has backed down on the government’s most dangerous attempt yet of information abuse:

Jack Straw last night scrapped controversial government proposals that could have allowed patients’ medical and DNA records to be shared with police, foreign governments and other bodies.

In a victory for civil liberties campaigners, the justice secretary bowed to public pressure over the data-sharing provisions in the forthcoming coroners’ bill, which would have allowed public bodies to exchange data without the knowledge or consent of individuals involved. Doctors and the Bar Council had joined privacy campaigners in warning of the potential risks to public trust.

Clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill would have amended the Data Protection Act, and given a government which has shown no goodwill whatsoever in the use of private information, carte blanche to use and abuse voters’ information as it saw fit, and entirely without their consent. ID cards may be pernicious but they’re nothing compared with the dangers which clause 152 posed. Guy Herbert though reminds us that this is merely a victory in a skirmish, when the overall battle has yet to be won:

Don’t hold your breath, though. Even if part eight of this bill is dropped completely, as rumoured (slyly punishing the Information Commissioner for dissent on data sharing by losing the improvements to his powers at the same time), information sharing will be back. It is at the core of current administrative fashion, and the cult of transformational government is still very much in charge at the cabinet office.

NO2ID added:

Phil Booth, Director of the No2ID campaign, said: “This is a huge victory for the massive public backlash there has been over this. This one spot of rot has been scooped out, but we need a wholesale clearance of the Government’s approach to personal data.”

(via UK Liberty)

Jack Straw Says Metropolitan Police ‘Not Racist’

Is it because Justice Secretary Jack Straw has a particularly keen sense of irony? Is it because he’s spectacularly ill-informed? Or is it classic NuLabour spin? Whatever the reason, on the 10th anniversary of the Macpherson Report, which accused the Metropolitan Police of being ‘institutionally racist’ following the investigation into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, Straw has claimed:

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said yesterday the Metropolitan Police is no longer “institutionally racist” ahead of the 10th anniversary of a landmark report which made the claim.

He told the BBC’s Politics Show: “If you are asking me whether I believe the Met as a whole is still institutionally racist, the answer is no.”

Of course he would say that. It trips as easily off the tongue as it does for Jacqui Smith to say that it’s perfectly safe for a man to be gay in Iran as long as he’s ‘discreet’. Such a pity for him that noone agrees with him, and that the force’s endemic racism is being revealed more by the day. But I’ll start the rebuttal with Stephen Lawrence’s mother Doreen, who has had to live with the outcomes of the police’s attitudes, making her especially well qualified to judge them:

Before the inquiry, black people were six times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. Now, after all the years, and after all the work that has been put in, they are seven times more likely to be stopped. Police should be using proper intelligence, and frontline officers should not have the power to discriminate like this.

Only a minority of black people carry knives, and if the community could trust the police more, they’d help them catch criminals. Institutional racism has not been eradicated.

On the positive side, though, there are more community consultation and advisory groups today, which give people a chance to influence policing. And there has been a lot of police training, and officers are more sensitive about how they handle the public. I can look at cases such as Anthony Walker and Damilola Taylor and see that what was exposed in the case of my son’s killing has allowed other victims to get justice.

She’s right of course in saying that things have moved forwards as a whole. It would be churlish to deny it. But of course as we’ve seen in the last few days they remain particularly bad in their bigotry against each other:

Racist police officers were given a “licence to bully” their ethnic minority colleagues by bosses who turned a blind eye to threats of violence and a culture of apartheid that gripped a London police station, it was today alleged.

The allegations are contained in legal documents submitted by Asad Saeed, a Muslim PCSO who is suing the Met for racial discrimination at an employment tribunal that began today.

He says he worked for barely a month at Belgravia station in central London in February 2007, before being suspended after two white racist colleagues who “framed” him. He was sacked from the force, but later reinstated on appeal with CCTV evidence disproving a claim from one of his accusers that Saeed, 35, had assaulted a vagrant while on duty.

The claims from Saeed and other black officers are some of the worst concerning racism to hit Scotland Yard in modern times. But more troubling for the new Met commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson who last week declared the force’s racist past was behind it, are the repeated claims from Saeed and his colleagues that when senior officers were told, they tried to silence the whistle blowers.

I think this is ghastly. And it should be noted that the Met is challenging Saeed’s claims. Despite cast iron evidence of the force’s guilt (Stockwell 2005 anyone?), it refuses to own up to its own institutional abuses. Doreen Lawrence is right, and as previously referred to, Sir Paul Stephenson is now dismissing the entire concept of institutional racism:

“I do not want the Met distracted by a debate about institutional racism – the label no longer drives or motivates change as perhaps it once so clearly and dramatically did.

“What matters to the people of London is that we continue to change. It is actions not definitions that solve problems.

A fundamentally dangerous attitude to take. Definitions allow attitudes to come into view where they were previously hidden. If the label of institutional racism doesn’t motivate change as much as it once might have, I’d question why. The term brought the idea that outcomes are more important than policies into the forefront of the diversity agenda. If Sir Paul no longer thinks that’s necessary he’s either part of the problem or even less up to the job than his predecessor. Time I suspect will tell which is the case.

Labour Sleaze? Alive And Well!

To use Obama’s terminology – this is a party on the wrong side of history. After the cash-for-honours scandal, we now have Labour peers accepting cash to change the law:

Four peers — including two former ministers — offered to help undercover reporters posing as lobbyists obtain an amendment in return for cash.

Two of the peers were secretly recorded telling the reporters they had previously secured changes to bills going through parliament to help their clients.

Lord Truscott, the former energy minister, said he had helped to ensure the Energy Bill was favourable to a client selling “smart” electricity meters. Lord Taylor of Blackburn claimed he had changed the law to help his client Experian, the credit check company.

Taylor told the reporters: “I will work within the rules, but the rules are meant to be bent sometimes.”

And this is the legislative chamber which ‘Justice’ Secretary Jack Straw says he’s so eager to reform, yet curiously never does. I wonder why that might be?

but the finding on Mr Straw took MPs by surprise.

The case relates to a donation of £3,000 from Cantaxx Energy, a gas company, to a Labour dinner held in Mr Straw’s honour in his Blackburn constituency in 2004. The firm was then seeking planning permission for an energy project elsewhere in Lancashire.

The committee found that Mr Straw not only failed to record the donation on the Register of Members’ Interests in 2004, but again in 2006 when it was drawn to his attention by Ben Wallace, a Tory MP, and again in 2007 when he was shown a copy of his declared donations that omitted the Cantaxx.

Draw your own conclusions.

Sally Murrer Defeats Police

You need to know about this story if you’re interested in the arrest of Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green. It illustrates beautifully the way in which the police don’t just continually overstep the mark, but prosecute people maliciously for doing what they’ve always done. In Green’s case it’s the norm for opposition MPs to hold the government to account, often by leaked documents which embarrass the sitting government. In Sally Murrer’s case, a local newspaper reporter who occasionally used a link with the Thames Valley Police for stories – normal practice for any journalist. Despite the fact that she never published any of the information, she was prosecuted under aiding and abetting misconduct in public office. Sound familiar? She was arrested, strip searched, held for 30 hours and told she’d go to jail for life.

Last week however:

the judge hearing the case, Judge Richard Southwell, ruled that Thames Valley Police had breached the journalists’ Article 10 rights and that effectively ended the prosecution.

Article 10 allowed her to protect her sources, which the police did everything in their power to stop. Particularly under these circumstances it’s staggering that the police would then try exactly the same tactics against a front bench opposition MP. Yet:

the Met knew about the Murrer case and its significance because it had advised Thames Valley officers on how to proceed with the investigation.

Also in the loop was the CPS, which decided on Friday to drop charges against Murrer and the policeman who leaked the stories to her. The Home Office, which began the leak inquiry that netted Mr Green, also knew about Murrer.

In the light of all that recent experience, one is left wondering why anyone in their right mind thought that it was sensible to arrest Mr Green.

Dennis MacShane highlights the insanity of arresting Green:

Does that make the MP above the law? No. The MP is in the same place as a judge in his chambers, the doctor in the consulting room, the lawyer in his office and at times the priest in his confessional. None of them are above the law, but the counter-terrorist police do not go storming into their offices to raid for material on the basis that something, anything might be found that can help them with their inquiries.

Under the gravest circumstances — a doctor who is a killer, a judge who is taking money, a lawyer who is complicit in terrorist ideology — then their professional privileges and protections can be lifted. There is not the slightest hint that such was the case when the police breached parliamentary privilege last week.

Remember national security wasn’t involved, nor was the Official Secrets Act. But current and former Home Secretaries Jacqui Smith and Jack Straw display no concern whatsoever to the dangers of the Metropolitan Police’s behaviour:

Indeed Smith essentially gives the police carte blanche again to do as they please, arguing that her responsibility in giving them ‘operational independence’ basically trumps any other concern. How could any right minded person believe that? It’s unimaginable surely to say that the police should be left alone to pursue an inquiry which everyone knows is unjust? Indeed given the precedent the Murrer case sets, how can either of them (particularly Justice Secretary Straw) justify allowing the police to continue to pursue Green when he clearly hasn’t engaged in criminal behaviour?

For the record check out Smith’s wording about any prior knowledge of Green’s impending arrest she may have had. She’s changed it from no prior knowledge whatsoever about the arrest to refusing to confirm whether she knew an MP (by implication Green) was under investigation. Considering she knew everything else, I bet (and hope) her words come back to haunt her.

The ‘Criminal Justice Lobby’

Is it just me or has Justice Secretary Jack Straw played the moral panic card?

Jack Straw, the justice secretary, today signalled a more punitive approach to prisons by attacking the “criminal justice lobby” for putting the needs of offenders before those of victims.

In a speech on prison policy to the Royal Society of Arts, Straw said it was time to reclaim the “unfashionable” language of punishment and reform and make clear that the justice system is there to serve victims and the law-abiding majority first.

I don’t like this one bit. Don’t forget that this was the party that was supposed to be ‘tough on the causes of crime’ but seems to have forgotten its pledge. It’s also the party which has doubled the number of women in prison, with double the number of babies being born in prison compared with eleven years ago:

The number of children born behind bars has almost doubled since Labour came to power, with new figures showing women prisoners currently giving birth at nearly four a week.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that 283 children were born in prisons in England and Wales between April 2005 and July this year, an average of 1.7 a week. But 49 babies were born between April and the beginning of July this year alone, almost four a week, meaning the 2008 total could reach nearly 200 if births continue at the same rate, more than double the 64 prison births recorded in 1995-96 before Labour came to power.

Prison reformers demanded that women should be locked up only in extreme circumstances, saying that keeping mothers and young babies in prison can harm young children and does nothing to cut crime.

And it is precisely such reformers whom Jack Straw is attacking in his speech:

Straw said the problem was that penal reformers had retreated into a “fog of platitudes” about offenders and had forgotten about victims.

Surely the earlier paragraph debunks Straw’s disgraceful, authoritarian attempt to paint penal reformers as only able to think in a binary fashion – either for offenders or for victims. It paints a tragic picture of how the New Labour government has retreated from the idea of crime prevention to a position of advocating the harshest punishment:

The justice secretary said that custody ought to be reserved for the most violent, dangerous and prolific offenders, with a stronger focus on prevention and punishment in the community for the less serious offenders.

And he defended the new “titan” prisons, which he insisted would not be “large warehouses”.

Yet that’s not what’s taking place, as the story above shows. And of course he, alongside his colleague Jacqui Smith, and her ID card project ignores the inevitable ‘function creep’ when it comes to his latest wheeze of ‘titan’ prisons. They will by their existence become what people fear them to be. That he at the very least denies it is (again as with Smith and ID cards) completely fraudulent. And as Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust points out:

“Apart from people who have committed extremely serious or violent offences it is difficult to see how jailing a young mother is going to do anything other than damage her and her baby. The conditions in prisons may no longer be Dickensian but young mothers are still going to jail for the same reasons they were in Victorian times, poverty, debt, addiction and mental illness.”

But of course he’s supported by the usual suspects:

With the experts batting so vigorously on behalf of the criminals, it is heartening that the Justice Secretary is weighing in on behalf both of the victims of crime and the law-abiding majority who frequently feel – with good reason – abandoned by the criminal justice system.

And the implicit message from the Telegraph and explicitly from Straw himself is that being ‘abandoned by the criminal justice system’ means ‘not jailed’. It is as usual New Labour which indulges in the post-9/11 ‘you’re either with us or against us’ argument, when it is entirely possible to support victims as well as case-appropriate sentencing at the same time . You’d think there was a general election on the way…