Wed, 30 May 2007

The Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) are jointly making it very clear that they don't like at all the ‘stop and question’ powers that the government is proposing. Len Duvall, chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said:
If we want to set back community-police relations and return to the bad old days of the ‘sus’ laws of the ‘70s and ‘80s, when levels of mistrust between police and public were at record highs and had drastic consequences, then the introduction of a new blank cheque power to stop and question anyone, anywhere, anytime without reasonable grounds for suspicion, is a very quick way of achieving this.

Neither the Metropolitan Police Authority nor the Metropolitan Police Service have called for this power because we understand the serious damage it could cause to the police’s relationship with London’s communities.
However, they do like the existing ‘stop and search’ powers they already have. He added:
Section 44 stop and search powers already give police the power to stop someone without having reasonable grounds, just by virtue of the fact they are in a specified geographical area at a time when police have satisfied the Home Secretary that there is a heightened risk.
Tomorrow the MPS will present its Review of police use of counter-terrorism Stop and Search powers in London at the MPA monthly meeting. The recommendations are:
  1. the MPS continues to appropriately apply to the Secretary of State for authority to use Section 44 Terrorism Act 2000 (Section 44) powers (currently pan – London);
  2. the MPS continues to constantly review the appropriateness of a pan London authority and based upon the threat, intelligence and operational requirements continue to only apply for pan-London authority when it is needed to support tactics to prevent terrorism. However this recommendation is subject to the further recommendations made throughout this report;
  3. the MPS revisits and updates the Section 44 Standing Operating Procedure (SOP), and ensures that staff receive adequate briefing for the appropriate and legitimate use of Section 44 powers. Thorough post event de-briefing will be conducted to ensure effectiveness and highlight opportunities for improvement;
  4. the MPS provides sufficient training to enable staff confidently and properly to exercise their powers under all stop / search provisions;
  5. the MPS nominates a strategic lead officer for the tactical pan-London use of Section 44, to co-ordinate activity from the receipt of Section 44 authority through deployment and post deployment monitoring;
  6. as with the exercise of all other stop and search powers, the MPS promotes the tactical option of ‘stop and account’ within a revised SOP (See Recommendation Three);
  7. the MPS maximise opportunities to engage public awareness in the use across London of Section 44 by using appropriate high visibility signs / other equipment, where appropriate;
  8. the MPS develop a comprehensive communication strategy and engagement plan to ensure Londoners receive a consistent level of accurate information pertaining to police use of Section 44; and
  9. the MPS should conduct an annual MPS Equality Impact Assessment in respect to Section 44 of the Terrorism Act.
These recommendations are in response to the MPA report Counter-terrorism: the London debate. The first recommendation of this report is: ‘Present an urgent review of the use of Section 44 Terrorism Act 2000 stop and search to the full Metropolitan Police Authority. Include in this review a clear rationale explaining why a given individual is stopped and searched rather than another. If unable to demonstrate to the Metropolitan Police Authority’s satisfaction through this review that the power is sufficiently effective in countering terrorism to outweigh the damage it does to community relations, stop using it, other than in exceptional circumstances, such as where there is a specific threat to a particular location.’

Will the MPA object to the MPS' recommendations? Unlikely as Len Duvall adds today: “While the MPA recognises the need to use all available tools to prevent terrorism, we are determined these tools should be as transparent and publicly accountable as possible.” Len Duvall appears not to fully endorse the conclusions of the MPA report (the foreword is signed by Reshard Auladin, Lord Toby Harris and Cindy Butts) that take the MPS to task. From my very limited experience of asking one question to the MPA, I found Len Duvall very much on the defensive protecting the MPS while other members offered more balanced views. Here are further, very similar, comments Len Duvall made in answer to my question: ‘The Chair [...] reiterates that stop and search is just one of tactics at the disposal of the police and that 'we can't rule out any tactic'. The Chair also refutes my argument that stop and searches happen on the basis of a stereotypical profiling, arguing that there's no profiling: all races are likely to be stopped and searched (but possibly one faith).’

From the MPS review:
55. ACPO have released advice in relation to Section 44 which also deals with the issue of selection for searching, emphasising that the power can be used in both a targeted and non-targeted way but should never be based on stereotypical views of terrorists. In the absence of specific intelligence, search activity may be on a more random basis, with a wide range of people being stopped.
This was of course not what happened in my case and the ACPO interim practice advice on stop of search does recommend behavioural profiling that is dangerously close to stereotyping.
61. There have been 19 complaints made in the MPS since Section 44 came into force in 2000, none of which were substantiated. In 2006 0.22% of Stop and Search activity (excluding Section 44) resulted in complaint. For Section 44, the figure was 0.01%. No formal disciplinary proceedings have resulted from complaints in relation to Section 44. However, 5 cases resulted in local resolution and the remainder were classified as unsubstantiated or withdrawn. All the locally resolved complaints related to incivility.
This data has been selectively compiled. Following my complaint to the IPCC, several officers involved received disciplinary sanctions so my complaint cannot be counted in these ‘19 complaints’. The stop and search was found to be lawful and hence was not the direct cause of the sanctions, it is the ensuing arrest and search of my flat which were found to be unlawful and the general poor conduct of the investigation that were the justification for the sanctions. This likely explains why it is not counted in the figure mentioned. If I hadn't been stopped and searched none of the rest would have happened. There's likely a large number of similar cases where complaints that could and should be attributed to stop and search will be counted only in some other category.

Note: Thanks to DW for pointing out the MPA press release in the comments of the excellent Police not consulted post by UK Liberty.

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Mon, 28 May 2007

Questioning the extension of stop and search to stop and question

Yesterday in a leaked letter to the Prime Minister, Tony McNulty, the Counter-Terrorism Minister, outlines the Home Office proposal to give powers to the police to stop and question people. People refusing to give their names or explain what they were doing could be charged with obstructing the police and fined up to £5,000.

A year ago nearly to the day, I asked a question at the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) about the stop and searches conducted in London under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. And only a few months ago, the MPA issued recommendations asking to ‘stop using it, other than in exceptional circumstances’.

If this terrible proposal still goes forward after Tony Blair and John Reid leave office, how many more of us will become ‘suspect’ or future ‘former suspect’?

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Sun, 27 May 2007

Arrest innocent and guilty alike, get their DNA swabs, create their entire genome sequence

Michael Ashburner, a geneticist Professor of Biology at Cambridge University and former joint-head of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), points out:
'Anyone who commits relatively minor offences can have their DNA taken and analysed. At present, the main use of this process is to create a DNA fingerprint that can be used to identify that individual. But soon we will be able to create an entire genome sequence of that individual from a swab or blood sample. We will end up knowing everything about their genes. In the end, we could have millions of people on a database and know every single genetic secret of each person. That has to be a very worrying prospect.'

Some related links:

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Thu, 24 May 2007

State of emergency, derogation from Article 5 of the ECHR and a further extension to the pre-charge detention period considered

Three suspects subject to control orders have disappeared.

The debate in the Commons is well worth reading in full. Here are a few extracts:

John Reid answering Dominic Grieve:
Unfortunately, within the limits of the existing legal framework, it is very difficult to prevent determined individuals from absconding. Nevertheless, I intend to do several things. First, I am already appealing to the House of Lords in several other control order cases about the interpretation of article 5 of the European convention on human rights on deprivation of liberty. We will consider other options—including derogation—if we have exhausted ways of overturning previous judgments on the issue.
Dominic Grieve:
The Home Secretary has hinted that draconian new powers are needed, yet the existing powers extend to house arrest, if the Government decide that there is such an emergency that that is justified. It is for the Government to determine whether there is a state of emergency. Is the Home Secretary saying that he will come to the House and say that there is an emergency in which the state is threatened? If so, when will he do that? Is it not the case that unless he does that, there is no possibility whatever of imposing derogating control orders, as they would simply be in breach of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights?
In an earlier analysis Justice reminds us that:
The United Kingdom may derogate from Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights (“ECHR”) only:
(a) in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation; and
(b) to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation; and
(c) to the extent that such measures are not inconsistent with its other obligations under international law
(ECHR Article 15; cf. Human Rights Act 1998, section 14).
John Reid answering Jeremy Browne:
Let me deal first with the question of intercept evidence in court. We have been looking at that for a considerable time, and both Opposition Front-Bench teams know that the disadvantages so far outweigh the advantages that what they are suggesting meets with complete opposition from our security and intelligence services.
Andrew Dismore:
I have great sympathy with my right hon. Friend, because the control order regime is clearly a very imperfect way of trying to deal with the problem, but I hope that he will not adopt the route of derogation. He said that he saw control orders as not even the second-best option. Perhaps he will tell us what he thinks is the best option. Does he agree with the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, that the best option is prosecution? We are concerned about the fact that the existing control order detainees are not subject to continual review to establish whether there is enough evidence to prosecute them. Last summer we recommended a series of ways of making make prosecution easier, one of which was the conversion of intelligence into evidence through the use of intercept. I heard what my right hon. Friend had to say about that, but the police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General have said that they consider it an important weapon that would significantly strengthen their ability to prosecute. I hope that before my right hon. Friend presents his proposals he will give serious consideration to the Committee’s recommendations, including that one.
John Reid answering Andrew Dismore:
I repeat that we always want to prosecute when there is a level of evidence that is sufficient to reach the threshold for prosecution. That is self-evident, but it is not the question. The question is: how do we tackle terrorist suspects when we do not have a sufficient threshold of evidence to charge, but have sufficient information to be alerted, through the intelligence and other services, to the fact that they may be preparing to commit an act of wholesale human destruction?
The Government is not asking for the tools that it needs to build a case strong enough to bring to trial suspects—and intercept evidence is used in other countries—but it is using its own failure to deal with three individuals it claims are a serious threat to justify removing some of our essential human rights. Act now to ensure the UK doesn't derogate from Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to liberty and security.

The UK Liberty blog has a good analysis at Three control order subjects have absconded and Reid calls for more power.
Note also that all the mentions about the Chahal case are completely irrelevant as it applies to foreign nationals and the three individuals at large are British.

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Thu, 17 May 2007

NDNAD - one annual report and 162,200 duff records

The Home Office published the Annual Report for 2005-06 of the National DNA Database (NDNAD) Board and ElReg reveals that between 1995 and 2005 approximately the NDNAD unit tried to load 126,200 erroneous records onto the database, of which only 26,200 were stopped by the system.

Some related links:

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We do not find that it would be conducive to the public good that the appellant should be deported on the grounds that it would be in the interests of national security so to do

Statement from three jurors in Mouloud Sihali’s trial:
14th May 2004

Today is a great day for Mouloud Sihali, his supporters and for justice.

As a jury, we sat through an incredibly lengthy and expensive trial, assessed all the evidence and came back with a verdict of Not Guilty on all the charges levelled against Mouloud Sihali. After the trial, several of the jury were shocked when the government proposed the deportation of all the cleared defendants in the Ricin Trial back to Algeria, to face an unknown and potentially dangerous fate. However, we were absolutely appalled when Mouloud Sihali was re-arrested and thrown into jail, without any charges proffered against him. His treatment since his release from jail has angered and dismayed us; under a strict bail regime he has been robbed of his freedom, treated unfairly and held under draconian conditions that shame us as a nation. Only his immense inner strength, the support of his friends and, ultimately, the belief in his innocence has seen Mouloud through dark days of what amounts to psychological torture

Although we do not approve of the SIAC system, with its shadowy policy of closed court sessions and secret evidence, which the defendant and even his lawyers are not allowed to see, we are grateful that Justice Mitting and his colleagues have reached a sensible conclusion. Mouloud Sihali is judged not to be a threat to national security; something that we jurors have always firmly believed.

We hope now that Mouloud Sihali can be left to live his life in peace and at last has the freedom to make a choice as to what he does with his future, without the damning label of “terrorist” or “threat to national security” hung around his neck.
Mouloud features in Taking liberties. In this movie, you will see the very sordid life that was imposed on him by this Government. I briefly met him after the preview showing. My very best wishes to him especially as, according to the BBC, Home Office minister Tony McNulty is considering persecuting him further: ‘We are disappointed, however, that the SIAC has determined that Sihali does not pose a threat to our national security. The government's highest priority is to protect public. We will be examining the determination closely to establish whether we have an avenue to appeal to the Court of Appeal and, if so, we will seek to overturn the decision.

Note: there has never been any Ricin involved in the so-called Ricin trial (recap from ElReg)

Recent rulings by the Special Immigrations Appeals Commission (SIAC) - thanks to the excellent British and Irish Legal Information Institute BAILII database:

May 2007

April 2007

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Fri, 11 May 2007

One hundred and fifteen exceptional cases last year

In a written answer, John Reid gave detailed historical data on DNA subject sample profiles added to and removed from the National DNA Database (NDNAD). Removal of the DNA profile as explained in the ACPO's Retention Guidelines for Nominal Records on the Police National Computer is done only in exceptional cases.

2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06 2006-07
DNA profiles added to the NDNAD 444,394 431,723 480,286 625,797 667,737
DNA profiles removed from the NDNAD 256 45 53 165 115

My DNA profile was added in 2005-06, I look forward to increasing the number of DNA profiles removed in the current financial year. The relevant Chief Police Officer has to authorise the removal of my bioinformation and the destruction of the samples.

On a partially related note, I have just received from the IPCC its final decision in my appeal against the outcome of the police complaints investigation.

Some related links:

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Thu, 10 May 2007

Taking liberties

Taking liberties is a documentary to be released in the UK on June 8th. Through stories of people from all walks of life intermingled with soundbites from Blair and his government, this movie tackles what's happening in the UK to the right to protest, the right to freedom of speech, the right to privacy, the right not to be detained without charge, to be innocent until proven guilty and to the prohibition of torture.

Just ten hours after having finished the production and with very little sleep, Chris Atkins, the film director, did a preview screening and Q&A at Amnesty International. The film was very well received but then most attending were already sensitive to the issues presented, if not activists.

‘This story is not told by celebrities or politicians, but by ordinary people whose lives have been turned upside down by injustice. What is probably most fascinating is to see how these people – whether they have been arrested for a peaceful protest or tortured in Guantanamo Bay – have reacted to their injustices in startling and uplifting ways.’ - Chris Atkins

This rich mix of stories means, that when the documentary is released to a wider audience, there's a chance for everyone to identify with one of the characters; this is the path to realisation that these liberties can be taken away from you. This is not the story of some remote dictatorship, this is happening to many here in the UK. The film includes footage rarely seen before (such as how the Police literally pushed the door on one the Fairford coaches to prevent the passengers to get out of the coach) making these episodes all the more immediate. And the animations are fantastic.

For now watch the trailer, on June 8th go see the full movie. I found it very effective, sometimes moving and with a few funny moments.

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Mon, 07 May 2007

Forensic use of bioinformation and human rights

Justice's response to the consultation on the ethical issues in the forensic use of bioinformation conducted by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics provides some interesting insights regarding the compatibility of current policies with human rights laws.


The current criteria for the collection and retention of bioinformation by police are wholly disproportionate to the needs of law enforcement. In particular, the retention of DNA samples of persons either not charged or subsequently acquitted appears to us a gross interference with the right to personal privacy. We note that this view is at odds with the 2004 judgement of the House of Lords in R v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (ex parte S and Marper),[2004] UKHL 39. in which the House concluded that the retention of DNA samples of persons arrested but not subsequently convicted did not interfere with the right to respect for personal privacy under Article 8(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and – even if it did – was a legitimate restriction under Article 8(2). With respect, however, we consider the decision of the House in Marper to be deeply flawed. We further predict that it is unlikely to be upheld by the European Court of Human Rights on appeal for the following reasons.

Here's Article 8 of the ECHR:
Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Justice's response highlights the amount of medical information contained in an individual DNA sample as opposed in fingerprints and photographs. That recent case law from the European Court shows that retention by the police of personal information can plainly amount to an interference with the right to respect for personal privacy under Article 8(1), and this should apply to Police retention of DNA samples. And, that retention of DNA samples of persons suspected, but not subsequently convicted, of an offence to breach Article 8(2) on the basis that such retention is unnecessary and disproportionate.

Justice also points out a potential breach of Article 6(2), the right to a fair trial.

Thus, while the legitimate interest in the prevention and detection of crime may justify the retention of DNA profiles of those proven guilty and charged, it cannot serve as a justification of the indefinite retention of DNA of individuals who are by law presumed to be innocent.Article 6(2) ECHR.

Here's Article 6:

Right to a fair trial


2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.


A legal challenge which will determine whether fingerprints and DNA samples taken from people who have been acquitted of crimes can be kept by the police has been given the go ahead for consideration in the European Court of Human Rights.

Michael Marper and S (a juvenile), the two cases included in the challenge, requested their fingerprints and DNA samples to be destroyed – but the requests were refused by South Yorkshire police. They both argued that the retention of fingerprints and especially DNA samples amounts to an unjustified breach of their right to respect for private life protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The applicants also submitted they were subject to discriminatory treatment (Article 14) as compared to others in an analogous situation, namely other unconvicted persons and those whose samples had still to be destroyed under the legislation. ([2007] EHCR 110)

You have until 2007-05-31 to sign the petition asking the Prime Minister to legislate to require all UK Police forces to delete DNA data from persons not convicted of an offence.

Links to my response to the consultation and other useful resources on the NDNAD can be found in Should the Police keep your DNA forever?

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I fought the law by Dan Kieran

I fought the law Dan Kieran's book I fought the law is available at a bookshop near you - in the humour section. The choice of section likely comes from Dan's approach:

My approach has always been to do funny books about serious issues because I think you can reach more people by being entertaining as well as informing.

I fought the law ended up being a very different book from the one Dan initially intended:

My original idea was to write a guide to some of the most absurd ancient legislation still on the statute book. I’d had this great idea to go round the country on a crime spree, breaking as many silly old laws as I could find: imagine if Fred Dibnah met Bonnie and Clyde.

However, in the process of researching these laws I couldn’t help noticing another glut of legislation that seemed even more ludicrous. Most of our silly laws have trickled onto the statute book over centuries, but this particular set had all come from our current government. And when you meet a man who got arrested after eating a cake with “Freedom of speech” written on it in icing, and someone else who has a criminal record for holding a banner made of fridge packing in Parliament Square that had “Freedom of speech” written on it in Biro, the idea of breaking the Adulteration of Tea Act of 1776 starts to seem a little frivolous.

Dan had already rescoped his book when I met him one evening in November 2005 at the offices of the Idler. He recorded an interview about what happend when the Police found my behaviour suspicious when going in a tube station and the subsequent stop and search, arrest, detainment, flat search, etc. This was the context for the interview:

This book is about my journey to break the strangest law in Britain. Now people will expect it to be all the odd and eccentric laws of the past but because I'm writing it in the current climate, I want to highlight how our freedom is being eroded. An interview with you to tell your story would point out that you can now be arrested for literally doing nothing.

The chapter called Britain's Ten Worst Laws which Dan wrote in conjunction with civil rights campaign group Liberty opens with this interview.

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