UK: The Civil Contingencies Bill - Britain's "Patriot Act"


Update 28.11.03: The Joint Committee on the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill (of Commons and Lords) published a report today which has concluded that the proposed Civil Contingencies Bill means: "Our democracy and civil liberties could be in danger"

The Committee's report says:

"We recommend the bill explicitly prohibit regulations which would contravene any inalienable rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights or the Geneva Conventions... In the wrong hands, it could be used to undermine or even remove legislation underpinning the British constitution and infringe human rights."

A key clause says that Regulations can be made to:

"(f) prohibit, or enable the prohibition of, assemblies of specified kinds, at specified places or at specified times;
(g) prohibit, or enable the prohibition of, travel at specified times;
(h) prohibit, or enable the prohibition of, other specified activities;
(i) create an offence of:

(i) failing to comply with a provision of the regulations;
(ii) failing to comply with a direction or order given or made under the regulations;
(iii) obstructing a person in the performance of a function under or by virtue of the regulations"

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"This is Britain's Patriot Act. The powers available to the state would be truly draconian. Cities could be sealed off, travel bans introduced and all telecommunications cut off. Demonstrations could be banned and the news media be made subject to censorship. New offences against the state could be "created" by government decree. At a stroke democracy could be replaced by totalitarianism"

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1. Report by the Joint Committee on the draft Civil Contingencies Bill published 28.11.03: Full-text (pdf)
2. The draft Bill and Explanatory Note: Full-text (pdf)
3. Full-text of the Emergency Powers Acts 1920 and 1964 and the Civil Protection in Peacetime Act 1986: Full text
4. The origins of the Emergency Powers Acts (EPAs) in the UK (extract from "The Political Police in Britain" by Tony Bunyan): Origins of the EPAs

BBC News (28.11.03): Disaster plans "open to misuse (link)
Guardian citing PA (28.11.03): 'Anti-terror law threatens democracy'

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Statewatch story filed on 20 June 2003

The UK government has published a draft Civil Contingencies Bill together with Explanatory Notes.The Bill would repeal the Emergency Powers Acts of 1920 and 1964 and the Civil Protection in Peacetime Act 1986. The proposal is now open to consultation until 11 September and responses should be directed to: Civil Contingencies Bill (Consultation), First Floor, 10 Great George Street, London SW1P 3AE or e-mail: cbill@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk

The first part of the Bill on Civil Protection is one thing but the second part on Emergency Powers brought the following editorial comment from the Guardian newspaper on 20 June that this represents:

"the greatest threat to civil liberty that any parliament is ever likely to consider"

The original 1920 Act was passed at a time of great political and industrial unrest and gave the government draconian powers which can be introduced under the royal prerogative and adopted by "Orders in Council" - that is, by a meeting of any two Privy Counsellors (all cabinet ministers are automatically made Privy Counsellors on appointment). Parliament has to agree new powers adopted but all real power is

 

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