2010-2011: UK government civil liberties programme

Please note: this observatory is no longer updated.

"We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness."

Coalition programme for government (see p11, link, pdf) published by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister 20 May 2010

November 2011: Criticism of UK Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures mounts as government retains power to forcibly relocate suspects (from Statewatch Journal; vol 21 no 3)

In another U-turn on civil liberties, the government is introducing emergency legislation that will allow it to impose on terrorism suspects many of the draconian restrictions they had promised to do away with.

October 2011: Arrests, raids and wedding parades (from Statewatch Journal; vol 21 no 2)

The Coalition government's commitment to restore freedom and rights i the face of increasing state power is thrown into question by the heavy-handed response to small protests on the day of the royal wedding.

September 2011: Internet censorhip looms as government finds alternatives to flawed Digital Economy Act

A July 2011 High Court judgement has paved the way for the routine blocking of websites accused of infringing copyright. In a landmark test case of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA), for the first time in the UK a judge ruled that an internet service provider (ISP) must stop its subscribers accessing a website. The establishment of this legal precedent has allowed the government to abandon the website blocking provisions of the Digital Economy Act (DEA), which have proven to be poorly drafted and difficult to implement, without drawing the ire of creative industry copyright holders who lobbied fervently for its introduction.

June 2011: Review of counter-terrorism powers fails to deliver definitive change (from Statewatch Journal; vol 21 no 1)

The recommendations of the counter-terrorism and security powers review undermine the coalition government’s commitment to restore “hard-won British liberties.”

February 2011: Protection of Freedoms Bill provides long-awaited reform of Labour's data retention regime

"Thousands of innocent people are to be removed from the UK national DNA database, but alarmingly their records will still be held on the Police National Computer."

January 2011: Control orders remain in all but name as Lib Dems renege on manifesto pledges

"Control orders have been abolished in name alone: amended, not replaced. Crucially, TPIMs will retain its predecessor's most objectionable characteristic of operating outside the criminal justice system and bypassing judicial process. Under the new system individuals will continue to be punished without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence heard in closed courts that they are not permitted to hear or contest. TPIMs will restrict suspects' civil liberties less severely than control orders currently do, but the new system will continue to undermine the presumption of innocence and remains an inadequate substitute to a fair trial."

January 2011: Statewatch analysis: Six months on: An update on the UK coalition government’s commitment to civil liberties (pdf) by Max Rowlands

Statewatch publishes a follow-up to its June 2010 Analysis (see below) of the coalition government's commitment to civil liberties:

Within weeks of its formation in May 2010, the coalition government announced with much fanfare its intention “to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power.” An easy victory over Labour’s politically bankrupt National Identity Scheme followed, but since then the government’s approach has been characterised by caution and pragmatism rather than an unerring commitment to liberty.

This is largely because there are splits within government on many of the key civil liberties issues that fundamentally define the relationship between citizen and state: how long and under what conditions can the government detain us, to what extent should the state surveil us, and what data on us should it hold? These internal divisions have been compounded by significant pressure from the civil service and security agencies to retain Labour policies that served to empower them.

On intrinsically divisive topics such as the future of the Human Rights Act and counter-terrorism legislation, commissions of enquiry have been used as a stalling tactic to avoid creating friction within the coalition and to provide time during which common ground can be found. Difficult decisions cannot be delayed indefinitely and it remains unclear which party will hold sway. The contents of the much anticipated Freedom Bill will go a long way towards revealing the extent of the coalition’s commitment to civil liberties.

January 2011: Section 44 stop and search powers to be amended and reintroduced

The government's review of counter terrorism and security powers has confirmed that, like control orders section 44 stop and search powers are to be redesigned and reintroduced with a new name and a more tightly defined legal basis.

See also: Who'll stand up for liberty in Britain? by David Edgar (Guardian, link)

June 2010: Statewatch Analysis: Rolling back the authoritarian state? An analysis of the coalition government’s commitment to civil liberties (pdf) by Max Rowlands

The firm commitment to civil liberties made by the UK’s new Conservative led coalition government has given civil liberty campaigners reason to be encouraged. It comes from the full-text of the coalition agreement, titled The Coalition: our programme for government, published by David Cameron and Nick Clegg on 20 May 2010. It is accompanied by a number of specific commitments to address the considerable damage done by New Labour’s 13-year assault on civil liberties. The wording is vague, and a number of the outgoing government’s most unsavoury enactments have not been adequately addressed, but crucially the new UK government has acknowledged that a problem exists.


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