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Repeal or amend Labour's repressive laws ?

The Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Nick Clegg, has called for the repeal of several of the Labour Government's ill-conceived and repressive laws, which they have rushed through Parliament without full detailed debate and scrutiny. - See our UK Legislation Links page.

A list of 10 laws which they promise to repeal, out of the seventy thousand or so pages of legislation and thousands of new criminal offences dreamed up by the Labour regime since 1997, is a start, and they are soliciting more suggestions from the public (as well as, presumably, trying to recruit supporters).

The list is packaged under the slogan of the Great Repeal Act.

It is interesting that a major Opposition political party is now coming around to promising to repeal some of the repressive or stupid laws we have been complaining about for ages. Will the Conservatives and the other minor Opposition parties also support such Repeals ?

The Liberal Democrats current Top 10 laws to be repealed, and some which they have missed:

1. Restrictions on protests in Parliament Square Sections 132 to 138; Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005

The police can now impose any restrictions they think fit on demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament Square. Citizens of this country should not have to ask for the right to protest outside the Parliament that they elect.

See ParliamentProtest.org.uk

2. Identity Cards Identity Cards Act 2006

Identity cards are unworkable, expensive and illiberal. Labour is already spending £95,000 a day on developing the project but it will not stop terrorism, crime, illegal immigration or benefit fraud.

See the NO2ID Campaign

3. Extradition to the US Part 2, Extradition Act 2003

This act makes it much easier for the US extradite people from the UK than it is for the UK to extradite people from the US. Not only is the treaty unbalanced, but it means that British citizens can extradited without any evidence being provided.

Part 1 of the Extradition Act 2003 also needs to be amended, if not repealed. This deals with the new European Arrest Warrant, which also allows you to be arrested and extradited to other European Union countries, without any prima facie evidence being presented to a UK court where it could be challenged by the defence. Under this section there is no longer the (remote) possability of appealing to the Home Secretary, who has now washed his hands of the bureaucratic process.

4. Conditions on public assemblies Section 57, Clause 123, Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003

Until 2003, public assemblies were defined as a gathering of 20 people or more - when that many people were gathered, a senior police officer could impose conditions on the assembly. Labour lowered the number to just two, so that even the tiniest protest can be subject to police restrictions.

5. Criminalising trespass
Sections 128 to 131; Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005

Thanks to this law, a Home Secretary can make trespass a criminal offence on any land where they say it is in the interests of national security. This is defined very broadly however - and there is no need for them to justify their decision.

6. Control orders
Section 1, Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005

These allow restrictions, potentially going as far as house arrest, to be imposed on the mere basis of ‘reasonable suspicion’. They can be made for up to 12 months and renewed indefinitely. The Home Secretary can also decide to opt-out from the European Convention on Human Rights and issue control orders that amount to detention without trial. Liberal Democrats would repeal the legislation that enables Labour to decide that human rights standard don't need apply and we would also stop the Home Secretary being able to impose control orders simply on their own say-so.

7. DNA retention
Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001
Criminal Justice Act 2003

The UK allows for the taking of DNA by police from a person who is never charged, let alone convicted, which is then stored indefinitely. There are now around three million people on the national DNA database – by far the highest proportion in the world. Furthermore, very few safeguards have been put in place. The effects from a community relations point of view may well be serious – as it is, ethnic minorities make up 8% of the UK population but 24% of the database. We understand the case for keeping DNA of the convicted, but innocent people’s DNA should not be kept indefinitely.

The Human Tissue Act 2004 also allows your DNA tissue samples to be analysed without your explicit permission both for commercial or academic research and for law enforcement and national security purposes. Only "DNA" analysis is regulated, not the other similar and developing genetic profiling techniques such as RNA analysis, chromosome analysis etc.

8. Public interest defence for whistleblowing Official Secrets Act 1989

It is important that national security is protected, but sometimes it will be the case that it is in the public interest that malpractice or illegal activity is exposed. The Official Secrets Act includes no public interest defence, however – so whistleblowers remain unprotected, even if their action is very much in the public interest. Part of the reason for this was a series of high-profile embarrassments for the Conservative government of the time; ministers’ embarrassment should not be allowed to overrule the public good.

A consistent legal definition of "national security", of "terrorism" and of "the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom" needs to be re-defined in the Official Secrets Act, and the other Acts which deal with the secret intelligence services.

9. Right to silence Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 – Northern Ireland Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 – England and Wales

It was a long-established principle of a fair trial that defendants had the right not to be forced to incriminate themselves. In 1994, however, the Conservatives allowed juries to draw adverse inferences from a defendant’s silence. This represented a major attack on the idea of "innocent until proven guilty." We would repeal it.

10. Hearsay evidence
Criminal Justice Act 2003

Protections against the use of hearsay evidence were in place to ensure that a trial was decided on the facts of the case. Hearsay evidence cannot in practice be cross-examined in court, which removes a vital safeguard for the accused. Labour, in 2003, widened the circumstances in which it could be used. We would repeal these changes and return to focussing on securing fair trials and reliable convictions.

A major omission from this list is:

Civil Contingecies Act 2000 Part 2 Emergency Powers

Henry VIII powers in Part 2 Emergency Powers, can be used to repeal or amend any Act of Parliament, or to exercise the Royal Prerogative, apart from the Civil Contingencies Act itself and the Human Rights Act. An Emergency can be declared orally, without a written or digitally signed order, by any "senior Minister" (including the non Ministers like the Government Whips). All Ministers are "deemed to always act reasonably". No criminal penalties for misuse of these Emergency Powers by bureaucrats or politicians.

The other major omission from this list is the entire panoply of anti-terrorism laws, which contain far too many catch-all offences, and reversals of the burden of proof. The entire Terrorism Act 2006 could be repealed without any loss of national security.

The "thought crime" Collection of information section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 should also go.

Similarly the "brother's keeper" Section 38B of the Terrorism Act 2000 introduced by the hodge podge Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 should be repealed, along with the Communications Traffic Data Retention section. The "noxious substances" definiton under ATCSA is utterly ridiculous, and far too broad i.e. all known matter in the entire universe.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 Part III dealing with Governemnt Access to Encryption Keys should also be repealed (it has not been commenced despite being on the statute book for 6 years). The definition of a "telecommunications system" encompassing all electical and electromagnetic energy, both inside and outside the UK i.e. all known and unknown energy in the entire universe is far too broad.

The Anti-Social Behavior Act 2003 is also full of iniquities and should be repealed.

The Children Act 2004 section setting up Yet Another Centralised National Database
on all 12 million children and their parents or guardians, should be repealed.

Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill 2005 - proposes removal of British Citizenship, even for people who have been born in the UK, "for the public good", by order of the Home Secretary, without any judicial oversight or evidence heard before a Court.

We are not convinced that the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill has been de-fanged, and the Police and Justice Bill still contains unjust and commercially damaging amendments to the Computer Misuse Act 1990, which should have been overhauled to bring it into the internet age with a full Bill of its own.

Even if you agree that there is problem where new legislation could be helpful, the way in which the NuLabour Special Advisors and Spin Doctors seem to have concocted the detail of such laws makes some of them unenforcable in practice. Other flagship Labour "must pretend to be seen to be doing something" tabloid legislation, has a chilling effect on the freedoms and liberties of normal decent law abiding people, whilst doing nothing to prevent the activities of real criminals and terrorists.

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