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Why we need the Lib Dems Freedom Bill

By Dark Politricks

I’ve always liked the Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne and personally thought he should have won their last leadership contest instead of Nick Clegg. Although Clegg comes across okay I have always found Chris to be more articulate and he seems to have much more passion especially when he talks about civil liberties and human rights.

In fact it’s a very rare occasion indeed in which I find myself disagreeing with anything he says and he seems to make a lot of sense when I see him get interviewed on TV. In fact along with Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Ed Davey their front bench seems to be quite solid and apart from their over keen attitude to Europe there isn’t much I disagree with them on especially when it comes down to main points such as the war in Iraq, foreign policy in general and especially civil liberties.

I wrote yesterday about their proposed Freedom Bill which is an attempt to roll back the massive police state architecture that has grown up around us over the last decade or so. Although I often hear some mutterings from the Tories, mainly from David Davies, regarding the RIPA act and the amount of surveillance Labour has put us under, they don’t seem to have any policy initiatives that I know of to help roll back this encroachment of our rights.

In fact the Tory party often claims to be the party of “Law and Order” and I cannot even imagine a situation where they would disappoint their many followers who read the Daily Mail by repealing laws that were designed to protect everyone but are seen by the foaming mouthed Daily Express and Daily Mail brigade as aiding criminals and terrorists.

When one actually thinks about the extent of the damage done to our civil liberties over the last decade it’s actually quite astonishing what we have lost. Considered on individual cases each change in the law was justified as a legitimate move to help fight crime but taken in their totality it’s quite a large dent in our limited protections against abuse from the state. If you believe that you will never be affected by the decisions made over the last decade or so then you probably didn’t even care that much when successive rights and liberties that were hard won over the centuries were removed or amended.

Until you are in a situation where you actually need the protection of the law it’s often the case that people believe they have nothing to fear from such seemingly “minor” changes to our civil liberties. Without a bill of rights in the UK to protect such freedoms it’s far too easy in a democracy for governments to successfully argue that such liberties are outdated or require changing due to current threats. If you believed everything the main stream media tries to spoon feed us then its only the criminals and Al Qaeda terror cells that have something to fear from amendments to laws regarding civil liberties.

We have handed away ancient protections that once seemed set in stone such as the right to remain silent or the right to demand a trial by a jury of your peers. It is very easy to give away such protections but very hard to regain them without a struggle. Unfortunately all governments throughout history have wanted to retain as much power and control of its population as possible which is the reason government needs to be limited and kept under control.

So one day you wake up and decide you have had enough of living in a real life version of Big Brother where you are captured on 300+ CCTV cameras a day and every purchase you make, every phone call, email or website you visit is logged in numerous databases. A world where your movements by foot, train, bus and car are tracked by RFID and GPS and multitudes of government agencies are able to spy on you without a warrant. So you decide you want to do something about this Orwellian nightmare and stand up to the system but it’s too late.

If you wanted to protest against such anti-liberal measures then you will need to get a permit to make your voice heard especially if you wanted to protest outside parliament. If you have been to previous protests then you may already be on the new government database of “domestic extremists” and prevented from attending any event even if it was permitted.

If you are lucky enough to be granted the permission to protest and witness abuse by one of the jackbooted storm trooper policemen that will most likely be present to ensure the event passes off violently, and dare to take a photograph of the crime, you might be considered a terrorist under new anti-terror laws. You could find yourself like many innocent photographers arrested for such a heinous crime and then who knows how many weeks you might spend locked up without being charged.

Once the government has designated you as a domestic terrorist then all bets are off. You won’t be able to remain silent during any interview without it being considered as a sign of guilt and you may even be prevented from having a fair trial with a jury.

Of course this is all just an example worst case scenario but it’s all possible in our new brave world where the only difference between freedom lover and domestic terrorist is the mood of the home secretary that day. Our liberties and freedoms are all up for grabs due to our democratic system and there is nothing stopping a powerful majority government removing many more if they so wished. We have no Bill of Rights to protect us from the will of government and although we have the Human Rights Act it’s a series of vague assertions such as the Right to Life and the Right not to be tortured all of which can be overridden during times of war or other public emergency (Article 15).

Therefore we need our protections from the excesses of government enshrined in law and we definitely need a bill like the one proposed by the Liberal Democrats to repeal all the nasty pieces of legislation that combined together have made our once fine country into an illiberal nightmare.

The following transcript is from Chris Huhne’s article in the Guardian written in February 2010 in which he outlines the reasoning behind the freedom bill and why its necessary.

There has always been a problem for civil libertarians. The sacrifices of freedoms made by successive governments often seem small, particularly when they are pushed through at times of panic about terrorism. Each time, the government argues that you only need to give up a modest amount of freedom or rights to win greater security. And what could be more free than life itself? Yet the cumulative effects of this salami-slicing have now become deeply corrosive to the free spirit of a civil society. Like some sci-fi horror movie, we are slowly becoming the authoritarian threat that we are fighting.

The Liberal Democrats are determined to resist the slow death by a thousand cuts of our hard-won British liberties. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was a warning, not a blueprint. Yet the Big Brother society that he satirised is growing before our eyes. Our forebears who fought so hard for the rights we have had stripped away would be shocked at what we’ve lost.

That is why we have published our freedom bill, detailing how we intend to roll back the draconian laws passed by successive Labour and Conservative administrations. This draft bill is the first time a major political party has brought all of the laws which have undermined civil liberties together in one piece of legislation so that they can be easily repealed. We have called it the freedom bill because if the measures within it were all repealed, it would represent the greatest victory for freedom in Britain in the last 20 years.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all the freedoms that have been lost in recent years. Sadly, there are too many. It is intended to be a starting point – to show people how much personal liberty has been stripped away by this government and the one before it. The freedom bill and the corresponding website is a consultative document designed to start a real dialogue, and give impetus to a movement that will lead to legislation soon after the next general election.

Our first draft of the freedom bill contains 20 measures to restore the fundamental rights that have been stripped away in recent years. We would:

• Scrap ID cards for everyone, including foreign nationals.

• Ensure that there are no restrictions in the right to trial by jury for serious offences including fraud.

• Restore the right to protest in Parliament Square, at the heart of our democracy.

• Abolish the flawed control orders regime.

• Renegotiate the unfair extradition treaty with the United States.

• Restore the right to public assembly for more than two people.

• Scrap the ContactPoint database of all children in Britain.

• Strengthen freedom of information by giving greater powers to the information commissioner and reducing exemptions.

• Stop criminalising trespass.

• Restore the public interest defence for whistleblowers.

• Prevent allegations of “bad character” from being used in court.

• Restore the right to silence when accused in court.

• Prevent bailiffs from using force.

• Restrict the use of surveillance powers to the investigation of serious crimes and stop councils snooping.

• Restore the principle of double jeopardy in UK law.

• Remove innocent people from the DNA database.

• Reduce the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 14 days.

• Scrap the ministerial veto that allowed the government to block the release of cabinet minutes relating to the Iraq war.

• Require explicit parental consent for biometric information to be taken from children.

• Regulate CCTV following a Royal Commission on cameras.

With luck, our freedom bill can act as a focus for civil libertarians of all parties and none in the run-up to the general election. The aim must be to change the terms of the public debate so that we can put out a clear challenge to those who run for parliament: will you back the freedom bill? We must understand how important to a free society and fulfilled individuals are privacy, freedom and the rule of law. It is time to roll back the intrusion of the surveillance state.

As you can see Chris Huhne obviously cares about our liberties and freedoms and its good to see him try to make this bill a central part of the Lib Dem’s upcoming general election campaign. In fact this idea of a Freedom Bill is not a new idea from Chris and he is on record as saying that if he was ever elected as Prime Minister the first bill he would put through would be a freedom bill. The following video was taken from 2007 just before the party leadership contest.

As I have said in previous articles it matters little which party gains the seat of power as they are all basically the same under the covers and over the last quarter of a century it has made no difference to me who was in power.

It seems that whoever runs the country taxes always seem to rise and there is always some foreign bad guy that we seem to find the need to fight. We know for certain that whoever wins the next election they are going to be stuck for cash and cutting services and raising revenues from whatever means possible to pay off the deficit. Therefore it makes no difference to my life whether Labour or Conservative win the general election as they are both going to be concentrating on the economy once elected.

However on the topic of civil liberties something that really matters and should matter to everyone it seems only the Liberal Democrats are prepared to do something about our current situation. I would urge every UK citizen to consider this proposed freedom bill when they are picking a party to put a cross next to in a month or so’s time.

If you don’t think things are that bad in terms of our lost liberties then I urge you if you haven’t already to read George Orwell’s 1984 and compare the imagery and technology from work of fiction to our current reality. This book was supposed to be a warning from history not a guidebook on running the country. The Liberal Democrats freedom bill is a small step to reversing this Orwellian world.

You can read the full transcript of the proposed Freedom Bill here.

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