Tag Archives: Human Rights Act

Police Formally Ignore European Court

The police system in this country lurches from the banal to the ridiculous. After the victory of the S and Marper case against the government in the European Court of Human Rights in December, requiring innocent people’s DNA to be removed from the National DNA Database, then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith justified keeping them on because of the effectiveness of the database as a whole in preventing crime and bringing offenders to justice. Typically she failed to mention that the inclusion of innocent people’s DNA had played no role whatsoever in the effective use of the database – in fact during the largest growth period of the database, its effectivness fell. In May though she decided to subvert the rule of law and keep innocent people’s DNA on the database for up to twelve years. Now the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has instructed Chief Constables to ignore the S and Marper ruling entirely:

Chief constables across England and Wales have been told to ignore a landmark ruling by the European court of human rights and carry on adding the DNA profiles of tens of thousands of innocent people to a national DNA database.

Senior police officers have also been “strongly advised” that it is “vitally important” that they resist individual requests based on the Strasbourg ruling to remove DNA profiles from the national database in cases such as wrongful arrest, mistaken identity, or where no crime has been committed.

The advice to senior officers comes in a letter from the Association of Chief Police Officers criminal records office. The letter, seen by the Guardian, tells chief constables that new Home Office guidelines following the ruling in the case of S and Marper are not expected to take effect until 2010.

“Until that time, the current retention policy on fingerprints and DNA remains unchanged,” it says. “Individuals who consider they fall within the ruling in the S and Marper case should await the full response to the ruling by the government prior to seeking advice and/or action from the police service in order to address their personal issue on the matter.

“Acpo strongly advise that decisions to remove records should not be based on [the government’s] proposed changes. It is therefore vitally important that any applications for removals of records should be considered against current legislation.”

This move by ACPO should be seen in light of what ACPO actually is – a quango, and one which still supports the behaviour of the Metropolitan Police at the G20 protests. It is a private, for-profit advisory body, and not a constitutional arm of the police of the UK. Yet we are in an age where these extra-governmental bodies determine (and subvert) the rule of law (ISA anybody?) and public policy. Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne is right – it’s outrageous that the Home Office’s post-S and Marper guidance won’t be available until 2010, unacceptable that the government intends to use statutory instruments to bypass the will and scrutiny of the House of Commons in trying to sidestep the European Court, and even more outrageous that ACPO should feel able to ignore the European Court’s wishes altogether. The rule of law is being trashed by the institutions charged with being its ultimate guarantors – they must be stopped.

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The Independent Safeguarding Authority Breaches Human Rights

Commentator shebunkin on the Observer’s Comment is Free asks:

between 11m – 14m people working with children or vulnerable people will have their privacy invaded, and be effectively treated as fitting a criminal profile by virtue of their occupation or voluntary activity. they will pay approx £80m for this priviledge – a tax which the non-profiled don’t have to pay. and it will achieve very little which could be termed ‘positive’ and much damage, including to children themselves. one or two people will strike gold – its an ill wind etc…

furthermore, it will be illegal to hire, and to work or volunteer in the prescribed fields of work. the citizen’s right to work will be predicated on registering on the database.

how can this disproportionate legislation be compatible with the human rights act?

You’d think it isn’t, but looking at the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) I can’t see an immediate loophole to exploit to strike the legality of the Independent Safeguarding Authority’s (ISA) existence down. The ISA’s mandate clearly breaches the Universal Declaration (article 23) however, but the UDHR isn’t enforcable under any law. The ISA may be a political disaster (and should be treated as such), but legally it’ll be difficult to get abolished.

If I’m wrong on this, I’d love someone to pick out the legislation’s weak spots. It does seem improbable that the Vetting and Barring Scheme should be able to rescind people’s rights to employment, for reasons wich aren’t based on law.

Control Orders Breach Human Rights Act

So the Law Lords have declared that the government’s policy of control orders breaches the Human Rights Act. This should surprise noone. By their very nature control orders are inhuman (and will be the subject of an imminent blog post from me, via Amnesty International), but the Lords found they breached the European Convention on Human Rights because they deprive those subject to them from the due process of law. Astonishingly new Home Secretary Alan Johnson argued that due process could justifiably be avoided:

The Home Office argued that it was sometimes possible to have a fair hearing without any disclosure depending on the circumstances of the case. Security-vetted special advocates are supposed to represent the interests of those placed on control orders in each case.

The terms of the control orders imposed on individual suspects by the home secretary include curfews at their home address of up to 16 hours, a ban on travelling abroad, all visitors to be approved by the Home Office, monitoring of all phone calls and a ban on internet and mobile phone use.

Johnson himself said:

“All control orders will remain in force for the time being and we will continue to seek to uphold them in the courts. In the meantime we will consider this judgment and our options carefully.”

He said control orders were introduced to limit the risk posed by suspected terrorists who could neither be prosecuted nor deported. “The government relies on sensitive intelligence material to support the imposition of a control order, which the courts have accepted would damage the public interest to disclose in open court.

“We take our obligations to human rights seriously and as such we have put strong measures in place to try to ensure that our reliance on sensitive material does not prejudice the right of individuals subject to control orders to a fair trial.”

So no change from the reshuffled government then. They actually believe it’s possible to have a fair trial with evidence against the plaintiff kept secret from them?

In the ruling, Lord Philips said: “A trial procedure can never be considered fair if a party to it is kept in ignorance of the case against him.”

This, New Labour, is why we hate you. Control orders have to go. House arrest – actual Big Brother levels of control – is condemned in Burma; it’s unthinkable for it to be continuing here against anyone, and it’s monstrous for Johnson to say the government takes its obligations to human rights seriously.

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

The Metropolitan Police: A Brutal, Unaccountable Militia

(photo source: Guardian)

Guy Aitchison at Open Democracy offers a brilliant analysis of the Metropolitan Police’s brutal and perhaps criminal behaviour at the G20 protests last week:

Does Britain now have an aggressive system of policing that undermines the country’s democratic traditions by systematically intimidating and closing down any protest it does not consider ‘safe’? The way that the G20 protests were managed suggests that we do. In particular the policy of “kettling” is a deliberate form of indiscriminate, collective punishment of demonstrators committed to peaceful protest, which seems designed to frighten people from expressing their disapproval of a system that is now, even by its own admission, dysfunctional.  The development is part of a wider pattern of state authoritarianism not to speak of out-of-control policing. I was present in the City of London throughout Wednesday’s events. Here I give my account of the protests, and an overview of the reports about them, with some ideas on how we can re-claim our liberty from those who would undermine it through fear and bullying.

Since Wednesday April 1st there have been several first-hand accounts by protestors of the heavy handidness and, in many cases, brutality of the police’s approach to the protests at the Bank of England and Climate Camp. These have helped counter some of the all too predictable smears coming from sections of the mainstream media. There is now a strong case which says that not only did the police action raise serious civil liberties concerns; it was counter-productive, provoking violence and endangering the safety of peaceful protestors.

Continue reading here. And you really should.

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.

Police’s Anti-Protest Database Flouts Human Rights Act

The Guardian has investigated the police’s forward intelligence teams, which compile intelligence against everyone who attends any political protest in this country, and have made an alarming (if unsurprising) discovery. Their very existence is to pre-criminalise protesters, journalists and photographers whom the police just don’t like, and now they’re setting up a database with the information:

Photographs, names and video ­footage of people attending protests are ­routinely obtained by surveillance units and stored on an “intelligence system”. The ­Metropolitan police, which has ­pioneered surveillance at demonstrations and advises other forces on the tactic, stores details of protesters on Crimint, the general database used daily by all police staff to catalogue criminal intelligence. It lists campaigners by name, allowing police to search which demonstrations or political meetings individuals have attended.

Disclosures through the Freedom of Information Act, court testimony, an interview with a senior Met officer and police surveillance footage obtained by the Guardian have ­established that ­private information about activists ­gathered through surveillance is being stored without the knowledge of the people monitored.

Remember this isn’t as the result of any legislation, this is (as with the Damian Green affair) the police making decisions outside of the law, and ignoring human rights as if they don’t matter. We know from the experience of the Kingsnorth climate camp protest last summer that if the police are allowed to abuse protesters they invariably do, and lie to justify the actions they take. How can they be allowed to set up a database which enables them to continue this abuse? Liberty believes their action is illegal under the Human Rights Act:

Corinna Ferguson, Liberty’s legal officer, said: “A searchable database containing photographs of people who are not even suspected of criminal activity may well violate privacy rights under article 8 of the Human Rights Act. It is particularly worrying if peaceful protesters are being singled out for surveillance.”

I couldn’t agree more. If I peacefully attend a peaceful political demonstration, it should be unthinkable that the police could actually be conspiring against me. Yet that is exactly what they are doing. In explanation of the database, Superintendant David Hartshorn of the Metropolitan Police said:

“people we have seen on a regular basis involved but may not have been charged or arrested” were also stored on the database. He added that the data was reviewed every year. “In relation to what we can keep on databases, we are governed quite strictly on that. Obviously you’ve got the Data Protection Act but also, in terms of intelligence, we have to justify what we are able to keep.

To whom? One another? Parliament? The authoritarian government? How likely are they to intervene willingly when they admit they’re already trying to share our private information across government bureaux and departments without our consent? This petty (and ultimately ineffective) authoritarianism has no doubt yet again to be challenged in the European Court, leading again to the strange (and offensive) spectacle of the government which introduced the Human Rights Act being prosecuted for breaching it. Meanwhile we continue our lazy drift into a police state.