Sat, 31 Jan 2009

Human rights in the civil courts and a convention on modern liberty

Human rights in the civil courts

Thursday 2009-02-19 from 18.30 til 20.30 - College of Law, 14 Store Street, London WC1E 7DE - Admission free

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers runs a series of lectures covering a wide range of topics. In the next instalment, Louise Christian, solicitor and Liz Davies, barrister will talk on Human rights in the civil courts. (There should be more information on the Haldane Society's website, but as I write this its website cannot be accessed as there are some problems with the domain name renewal.)

Convention on Modern Liberty - February 28th, London and around Britain The convention on modern liberty

Saturday 2009-02-28 from 08:30 til 19:00 - The Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL - Admission: Standard £35, Concession £20

(Free satellite conventions in in Belfast, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester)

The Convention on modern liberty aims 'to bring together a wide and growing range of concerns about the state of fundamental rights and freedoms in this country and publicise the work of the many individuals, groups and organisations deeply involved with them from across the political spectrum. We hope this will generate a wider release of energy among the public that may assist the growth of a movement to take back what has been lost and to help shape a Modern Liberty capable of securing individual and collective freedom at a time of profound uncertainty and change.'

It's a great opportunity. Over a thousand attendees are expected at the main London event. And with more attending the satellite events, it's a rare occasion to mobilise such a large crowd on rights and freedom issues. It is a high profile event that has already garnered lots of publicity in particular in The Guardian, the main media partner (Henri Porter is co-director of the event). With more than a hundred speakers, you are bound to find some you consider worth listening to.

On the flip side, the programme has too much happening in parallel, one can attend only one session in the morning and one in the afternoon. Should one attend sessions they already have some interest in or instead discover something completely different? As these sessions are hopefully an opportunity to participate, the former is the more likely choice. Then there's the issue of cost, it is expensive for an event wanting to attract a whole spectrum of attendees. I queried this by email: 'I looked for info as to what the money the event will collect will be used for but haven't found any such explanation.' This wasn't directly answered, instead I learnt that 'Tickets are heavily subsidised. Concessionary tickets are £20 and all tickets include a sandwich lunch and refreshments'. In his launch speech, Anthony Barnett, co-director of the Convention, made an appeal for financial support while at the same time pointing out the generosity of many professionals offering their service for free; and Henri Porter explained 'The Convention on Modern Liberty is for openness, reform, accountability, scrutiny, trust and fun. It is against the fixing, manipulation, suspicion, spin and self-serving edicts of the political classes.' Why not then publish a summary budget? This would show some transparency and accountability, and would help convince more individuals to purchase tickets and/or donate.

A Carnival on modern liberty was launched to highlight some relevant blog posts in the run up to the Convention on Modern Liberty. The first edition was published at Liberal Conspiracy and the second at Our Kingdom (thanks Tom to select one of my posts). Submit a post to be included in a future edition.

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Thu, 29 Jan 2009

The end of privacy in the UK

"Several clauses in the Coroners and Justice Bill 2009 concern me, such as the reintroduction of secret inquests and the holding of inquests without juries on national security grounds, but one clause in particular - that has nothing to do with coroners or inquests - I find an extremely grave threat to our privacy. I am talking about clause 152 in Part 8 of the bill, the Information Sharing clause. Furthermore, this clause will directly affect each and every of your constituents, which is not the case for the rest of the bill.

If clause 152 remains as is, it would allow ministers to subvert the Data Protection Act 1998 and use information obtained for one purpose to be used for another. I recommend you read this clause in full, even though it is hidden away towards the end of this huge bill."

This is the start of the letter I sent to my MP last week. Today this bill gets its second reading in Parliament.

Inform yourself about this bill and act in whichever you feel appropriate to ensure its worst clauses are not retained as is. Here are some useful references:

A few other interesting write ups:

Act now while this is still only a bill.

Entry first published on 2009-01-26; last updated on 2009-01-29

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Mon, 26 Jan 2009

Stop'n'search gets touchy-feely

Section 44 not to detect terrorists 'but to reassure Londoners'

Published in El Reg

Stop'n'search gets touchy-feely (El Reg)

Feeling unsafe in your life? Looking for reassurance? The Metropolitan Police Service can help you with a touchy-feely innovation. It's called stop and search.

A new document hints at a shift of emphasis in the Met's strategic vision for counter terrorism stop and search powers. It's going to be a public relations tool.

Section 44 stops and searches were introduced by the Terrorism Act 2000. These powers differ from those of standard stop and search powers, as provided by Section 1 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, in that to use them officers do not need to have reasonable suspicion an offence is being committed.

They can only be invoked in an area or place for which an authorisation has been given by a police officer who is of at least the rank of commander of the Metropolitan Police (for London), and confirmed by the Secretary of State. Authorisations can only last up to 28 days, but they can be renewed ad infinitum, as is currently case for the whole of London.

The Metropolitan Police Service Stop & Search Strategic Committee has recently updated its Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on Section 44 Terrorism Act 2000; the Metropolitan Police Authority had recommended a review of this document in its Review of police use of counter-terrorism Stop and Search powers in London. This SOP was developed by the Territorial Policing Safer Neighbourhoods unit, first issued on August 1 2007 and later revised to remove Stop codes on December 31 2008. It's been published as part of the Met Freedom of Information Act publication scheme.

Your reporter happened to have saved a much older version prepared just before the London July 7 bombings. It had been compiled by the Territorial Policing Modernising Operations unit for the Demand Management Strategic Committee. This older version initially issued on April 1 2005 and subsequently revised on May 5 2005 is not mentioned at all in the new document. Comparing these two documents shows an evolution in how the Met considers the Section 44 stop and search powers and how it advises its constables to handle them.

Comparing the 'Appropriate Use' section of these two documents shows a change in the purpose of these powers:


It is important that officers take every opportunity to detect, deter and disrupt terrorist operations and provide public reassurance.

Essence of section 44

Police officers in uniform are entitled authorised to stop and search people/vehicles to see whether they have 'articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism' and if when no such articles are found then they must be allowed to go on their way.

There's an implicit admission that Section 44 stops and searches do not detect terrorists. This is borne out by the available data. In the financial years 2003/4 to 2006/7, the Met stopped and searched 31,797 pedestrians using the powers of Section 44(2); of these only 79 were arrested in connection with terrorism - less than a quarter of a percent - and even fewer will be convicted. The purpose of deterring is feeble considering the extent to which the Home Office is ready to go to avoid revealing when and where the exceptional powers for Section 44 apply.

If the location of authorised zones and when these are in effect is secret, how can it have a deterrent effect at all? What we're left with is the new belief of the Met that these stops and searches are taking place to provide reassurance to Londoners. The time difference is not as much as in Life on Mars but back when the earlier document was written, officers were entitled as now they're authorised; a much more civilised approach to policing.

New text on the introductory page reinforces that a key change in focus in what the Met wants to achieve with these powers is to be seen to be doing something, to reassure Londoners. Surely this could be better done than by stopping and searching passers-by without reasonable cause?


Stop and search powers under Section 43 and 44 Terrorism Act 2000 are used to improve the security of London and enhance community confidence by demonstrating a visible, responsive and proactive style of policing. The exercise of Section 44 powers is to disrupt, deter and prevent terrorism and to help create a hostile and uncertain environment for terrorists who wish to operate in London. Section 43 powers are used as a tactic to detect terrorists.

Strategic vision

Counter Terrorism stop powers, if used appropriately and effectively, will serve to reassure the people of London and in doing so will install trust and confidence of all communities.

Historic evidence

Historic evidence on the methodology of both Irish National and International terrorists indicates that they operate on a pan-London and indeed occasionally a pan-UK basis.

Primary targets

The particular areas where they live, plan, meet and store equipment and arms are generally away from the iconic, financial, crowded places and transportation hubs, which they seek as primary targets.


All staff should must recognise that there is an ongoing daily requirement to be remain vigilant and alert to terrorist related activity wherever they may be based or whatever type of policing activity they are involved in.

The mention of the Section 43 powers right in the introduction is clearly there to increase the awareness of all constables of these other stop and search powers also present in the Terrorism Act 2000. The new short sentence on Section 43 is also were the detection of terrorists reappears, as a tactic.

Section 43 provides powers for the police to search someone they reasonably suspect of being a terrorist for the purpose of discovering relevant evidence. These powers are distinct and should not be confused; this is clarified in a new section titled 'The Encounter':

If after speaking with the person stopped the officer considers a search is still required, then a Section 44 search should be carried out. If the officer has reasonable grounds to search then a section 43 search should be completed.

None of the generally available statistics (such as Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System, Home Office Statistical Bulletins and Met Stop and Search Monitoring Reports) that include data on stops and searches separate Section 43 data from overall total. One of the very few relevant statistics appeared in the Metropolitan Police Authority document Counter-Terrorism: The London Debate: from October 2005 to September 2006, the Met conducted 114 Section 43 stops resulting in 13 arrests, none of which were for terrorism-related offences. From this limited data, Section 43 has been particularly inefficient to detect terrorists.

Terrorists do indeed need to travel, transport and prepare. They also need to sleep and eat. As does everyone else. The last annual Met counter-terrorism ad campaign highlighted three dangerous items used by terrorists: mobile phones, houses and cameras. Photographers have been found particularly suspicious lately.

In the new 'The Encounter' section, one of the "Notes to officer" is:

Explain to the person being stopped that they are being stopped as part of the operation to reduce the risk of terrorism in London. Reassure the individual that the stop is a routine part of counter-terrorist policing and it is a preventative power proven to help make London safer from a terrorist attack.

After years of getting poor results in terms of stopping terrorists using the powers of Section 44, is the Met attempting to use these as a public relations tool? Officers conducting the stops and searches may find it difficult to convince us.

(For a more general context see the latest Practice advice on stop and search in relation to terrorism, now produced by the National Policing Improvement Agency on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers.)

El Reg Read and comment on this article at El Reg... Stop'n'search gets touchy-feely (El Reg)

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Thu, 15 Jan 2009

Been arrested, DNA sampled, are innocent and want to participate in an experiment?

If you

  1. have been arrested, and the police took DNA samples from you (and uploaded your DNA profile to the National DNA Database),
  2. are innocent, i.e., either no further action was taken or you have been acquitted, and
  3. are willing to participate in an experiment for a campaign for a national independent organisation,

please hold on requesting the removal of your DNA records and instead do get in touch. I will then pass on your details to this organisation who will give you more details so you can decide whether you want to help out.

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Wed, 14 Jan 2009

The House of Common server was not accessed by the police

During the Parliamentary, debate last month, about the police raid on shadow immigration minister Damian Green's office in the Palace of Westminster, the Leader of the House failed to answer the concerns of several MPs:

Mark Harper (Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions; Forest of Dean, Conservative): I should like to mention one of the reasons why it is important that the Committee should be able to do its work. My right hon. Friend and I asked the Leader of the House a question at business questions last week, but it has not been adequately answered. We asked whether last week the police were granted access to data belonging to other hon. Members. That has not been properly answered. [Interruption.] No, it has not been properly answered, and the Leader of the House needs to answer it properly for the House.

Theresa May (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Parliament; Maidenhead, Conservative): I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Leader of the House referred to the fact that Mr. Speaker said that the issue would be looked into, but—I am very happy for the Leader of the House to intervene on me and confirm this—she did not confirm that the police had not had access to the shared drive or the servers. If they had, they would have had the ability to access every Member's correspondence and e-mails. I invite the Leader of the House to intervene on me and confirm that that was not the case. Her silence suggests either that she does not know, or that she is not able to give the House the assurance that it requires, and that is of concern to each and every Member of the House.

SpyBlog suggested its readers contact their MPs to attempt to find out what happened to the Member's private correspondence:

If you have contacted your constituency MP via email in the last 2 years or so, your private correspondence could well have been trawled through by the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command.

Please risk another email (or a fax or letter) to your MP, e.g. via, simply asking them if, as a result of the Damian Green Police raid on Parliament, copies of your confidential email or fax correspondence with your MP, have been seized or rifled through by the Police.

My MP sent me a letter dated 2008-12-15; here's the content of her letter:

Thank you for your email of the 8th December about the presence of police in parliament and the security of my correspondence with you.

I was interested to hear your views on this important matter and I would like to reassure you that none of my correspondence has been affected by the police raid on the office of Damien [sic] Green.

The Speaker has confirmed with MPs that the House of Commons server was not accessed by police during the incident involving Damien Green and in future no access will be given without a warrant. The Speaker has also published a wider draft protocol for future searches of the House of Commons and I enclose a copy for your information.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me in the future, on this matter, or any other.

And the enclosed document (this document was OCR'd so any typo may have been introduced in the process and not be present in the original):


1. In my statement of 3 December 2008 (OR col 3) I said I would issue a protocol to all Members on the searching of Members' offices. In future a warrant will always be required for a search of a Members' office or access to a Member's parliamentary papers including his electronic records and any such warrant will be referred to me for my personal decision.

2. Although much of the precincts of the House are open to the public, there are parts of the buildings which are not public. The House controls access to its precincts for a variety of reasons, including security, confidentiality and effective conduct of parliamentary business.

3. Responsibility for controlling access to the precincts of the House has been vested by the House in me. It is no part of my duties as Speaker to impede the proper administration of justice, but it is of equal concern that the work of the House and of its Members is not unnecessarily hindered.

4. The precincts of Parliament are not a haven from the law. A criminal offence committed within the precincts is no different from an offence committed outside and is a matter for the courts. It is long established that a Member may be arrested within the precincts.

5. In cases where the police wish to search within Parliament, a warrant must be obtained and any decision relating to the execution of that warrant must be referred to me. In all cases where any Officer or other member of the staff of the House is made aware that a warrant is to be sought the Clerk of the House, Speaker's Counsel, the Speaker's Secretary and the Serjeant at Arms must be informed. No Officer or other member of the staff of the House may undertake any duty of confidentiality which has the purpose or effect of pr--venting or impeding communication with these Officers.

6. I will consider any warrant and will take advice on it from senior officials. As well as satisfying myself as to the formal validity of the warrant, I will consider the precision with which it specifies the material being sought, its relevance to the charge brought and the possibility that the material might be found elsewhere. I reserve the right to seek the advice of the Attorney General and Solicitor General.

7. I will require a record to be provided of what has been seized, and I may wish to attach conditions to the police handling of any parliamentary material discovered in a search until such time as any issue of privilege has been resolved.

8. Any search of a Member's office or belongings will only proceed in the presence of the Serjeant at Arms, Speaker's Counsel or their deputies. The Speaker may attach conditions to such a search which require the police to describe to a senior parliamentary official the nature of any material being seized which may relate to a Member's parliamentary work and may therefore be covered by parliamentary privilege. In the latter case, the police shall be required to sign an undertaking to maintain the confidentiality of that material removed, until such time as any issue of privilege has been resolved.

9. If the police remove any document or equipment from a Member's office, they will be required to treat any data relating to individual constituents with the same degree of care as would apply in similar circumstances to removal of information about a client from a lawyer's office.

10. The execution of a warrant shall not constitute a waiver of privilege with respect to any parliamentary material which may be removed by the police.

11. In view of the concern shown by Members, I am circulating this document without delay, but I shall take into account any representations by Members for its revision and will issue a revised document, should this be necessary.

The Speaker

Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said last week about whether to bring charges against Damian Green "We have some material, I anticipate more. We are now at a very, very sensitive stage. But it is not a decision that can be hurried."

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