The Death of British Freedom

April 15th, 2006 - by admin

John Pilger / The New Statesman – 2006-04-15 09:20:08

LONDON (April 14, 2006 ) People ask: Can this be happening in Britain? Surely not. A centuries-old democratic constitution cannot be swept away. Basic human rights cannot be made abstract. Those who once comforted themselves that a Labor government would never commit such an epic crime in Iraq might now abandon a last delusion, that their freedom is inviolable. If they knew.

The dying of freedom in Britain is not news. The pirouettes of ambition of of the prime minister and his political twin, the treasurer, are news, though of minimal public interest.

Looking back to the 1930s when social democracies were distracted and powerful cliques imposed their totalitarian ways by stealth and silence, the warning is clear. The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill has already passed its second parliamentary reading without interest to most Labor MPs and court journalists; yet it is utterly totalitarian in scope.

Presented by the government as a simple measure for streamlining deregulation, or “getting rid of red tape,” the only red tape it will actually remove is that of parliamentary scrutiny of government legislation, including this remarkable bill. It will mean that the government can secretly change the Parliament Act and the constitution and laws can be struck down by decree from Downing Street.

Blair has demonstrated his taste for absolute power in his abuse of the royal prerogative, which he has used to bypass Parliament in going to war and in dismissing landmark High Court judgments, such as that which declared illegal the expulsion of the entire population of the Chagos islands, now the site of an American military base. The new bill marks the end of true parliamentary democracy; in its effect, it is as significant as the U.S. Congress last year abandoning the Bill of Rights.

Those who fail to hear these steps on the road to dictatorship should look at the government’s plans for ID cards, described in its manifesto as “voluntary.” They will be compulsory and worse. An ID card will be different from a driving license or passport. It will be connected to a database called the NIR (National Identity Register), where your personal details will be stored.

These will include your fingerprints, a scan of your iris, your residence status and unlimited other details about your life. If you fail to keep an appointment to be photographed and fingerprinted, you can be fined up to 2,500 pounds.

Every place that sells alcohol or cigarettes, every post office, every pharmacy, and every bank will have an NIR terminal where you can be asked to “prove who you are.” Each time you swipe it, a record is made at the NIR. This means that the government will know every time you withdraw more than 99 pounds from your bank account.

Restaurants and off-licenses (liquor stores) will demand that the card is swiped so that they are indemnified from prosecution. Private business will have full access to the NIR. If you apply for a job, your card will have to be swiped. If you want a London Underground Oyster card, or a supermarket loyalty card, or a telephone line, or a mobile phone, or an Internet account, your card will have to be swiped.

In other words, there will be a record of your movements, your phone records and shopping habits, even the kind of medication you take.

These databases, which can be stored in a device the size of a hand, will be sold to third parties without you knowing. The ID card will not be your property, and the Home Secretary will have the right to revoke or suspend it at any time without explanation.

This would prevent you drawing money from a bank. ID cards will not stop or deter terrorists, as Home Secretary Charles Clarke has now admitted; the Madrid bombers all carried ID. On March 26, the government silenced the last parliamentary opposition to the cards when it ruled that the House of Lords could no longer block legislation contained in a party’s manifesto. The Blair clique does not debate.

Like the zealot in Downing Street, its “sincere belief” in its own veracity is quite enough. When the London School of Economics published a long study that effectively demolished the government’s case for the cards, Charles Clarke abused it for feeding a “media scare campaign.” This is the same minister who attended every cabinet meeting at which Blair’s lies over his decision to invade Iraq were clear.

This government was reelected with the support of barely a fifth of those eligible to vote: the second lowest since the franchise. Whatever respectability the famous suits in television studios try to give him, Blair is demonstrably discredited as a liar and war criminal.

Like the constitution-hijacking bill now reaching its final stages, and the criminalizing of peaceful protest, ID cards are designed to control the lives of ordinary citizens (as well as enrich the new Labor-favored companies that will build the computer systems). A small, determined, and profoundly undemocratic group is killing freedom in Britain, just as it has killed literally in Iraq. That is the news. “The kaleidoscope has been shaken,” said Blair at the 2001 Labor Party conference. “The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us.”

Terror Law an Affront to Justice — Judge
Vikram Dodd and Carlene Bailey / The Guardian

LONDON (April 13, 2006) — A high court judge branded the government’s system of control orders against terrorism suspects “an affront to justice” yesterday and ruled that they breached human rights laws.

The ruling by Mr Justice Sullivan came after a challenge to the first control order issued against a British Muslim man, alleged by the security services and the home secretary to have been planning to travel to Iraq to fight UK and US forces.

At least 11 control orders have been issued, allowing the government to restrict the liberty and movement of people it claims endanger public safety because of their involvement in terrorism but who can not be tried in the courts.

The judge said the anti-terrorism measures were “conspicuously unfair” and dismissed supposed safeguards of suspects’ rights as a “thin veneer of legality”. He had to say “loud and clear” that the laws were unfair otherwise “the court would be failing in its duty.”

But he said the laws passed had been drafted in a way that prevented the courts overturning control orders.

In this case, the judge said, Charles Clarke had made his decision to issue the order based on “one-sided information”, but he was “unable to envisage the circumstances” allowing the court to quash the home secretary’s decision. As a result, the judge said, he would have to leave the order in place, even though he ruled that it contravened human rights law.

The ruling gives hope to two Muslim men who will go to the high court next month to challenge control orders they are subject to. They are relying on broadly similar arguments to the ones Mr Justice Sullivan found so convincing.

The judgment led government critics to point out that twice in two years the courts have found that anti-terrorism laws breached human rights. It also came on the eve of new laws coming into effect designed to tackle the threat of Islamist violence.

The Home Office rejected the court’s ruling and vowed to appeal. “The ruling will not limit the operation of the act,” the Home Office said in a statement. “We will not be revoking either the control order which was the subject of this review, nor any of the other control orders currently in force on the back of this judgement.

“Nor will the judgment prevent the secretary of state from making control orders on suspected terrorists where he considers it necessary to do so in the interests of national security in future.”

The independent reviewer of the government’s anti-terrorism laws, Lord Carlile, said if the appeal was not successful ministers would have to consider amending the law.

He told the BBC: “I hope we will not get another piece of rushed legislation. I think this really does need mature reflection.”

Muddassar Arani, solicitor for the Briton, who is of Arab heritage, said: “This was the first British Muslim subject to a control order and he’s being treated as a second-class citizen.

“It is clear the home secretary is acting as the judge, jury and prosecutor.”

The man, a student originally from South Yorkshire, was stopped by counter-terrorism officials on March 1 2005 trying fly to the Middle East from Manchester airport, and then again the next day at Heathrow. He says he was travelling to Syria for a holiday, but security services say he was planning to fight in Iraq.

In September 2005 Charles Clarke signed a control order against him, revoking his passport, banning him from buying plane tickets, and banning him from airports and train terminals from where he could travel abroad.

The judge said the system was unfair because the man could not know the evidence, which was so sensitive it had to be kept secret from the accused.

A special advocate could not properly represent him, because the secret evidence could not be discussed with the client. The judge said: “If, as in this case, the substantial part of the case against him is not disclosed to the individual in question, it is difficult to see how the very essence of the right [of access to the court] is not impaired.”

Mr Justice Sullivan said the court cannot review whether the facts exist to support the home secretary’s suspicions and therefore “the overall procedure is manifestly ineffective and unfair”.

This meant the Briton’s right to access to a court, guaranteed by the European convention on human rights, was denied and the judge ruled the control order system was “incompatible” with human rights law.

Mr Justice Sullivan concluded: “Controlees’ rights … are being determined not by an independent court … but by executive decision making untrammelled by any prospect of effective judicial supervision.” Closing the case and addressing lawyers for the Muslim man, Mr Justice Sullivan made clear his frustration at the control order system: “If you erect a structure where people in the position of your client, to be frank, don’t have a chance, the secretary of state is always going to win.”

The system of control orders replaced the “Belmarsh system”, whereby foreign nationals suspected of terrorist involvement could be detained without charge or trial.

Lawyers for the Briton say counter-terrorism officials racially abused him after he was first stopped travelling.

The government was granted leave to appeal, but last night they faced a torrent of criticism from Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and civil liberties campaigners.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “Fundamental human rights, such as the right to a fair trial, are what distinguish democrats from terrorists and dictators. The government’s policy is in tatters – we hope that this time they are listening.”

The judiciary dealt a second blow to Mr Clarke yesterday by finding he was wrong to try to refuse a British passport to an Australian national held in Guantánamo Bay by the US. David Hicks qualifies for a British passport, but the court of appeal rejected a challenge by the home secretary to an earlier court decision that he must grant citizenship.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

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