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Serious Crime Bill published in the Lords

The first legislative assault on our freedoms and liberties in 2007 has started off in the House of Lords, with the publication of the Serious Crime Bill

Some initial impressions, more detail later, if we can summon up the willpower:

  • This Bill has similarities with the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, and much other Home Office legislation, in that there are long and complicated sections dealing with a re-organisation of a law enforcement agency, in this case the absorption of the failed Assets Recovery Agency into the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

  • There is also a hugely controversial section, which will eat up most of the time for debate in Parliament, i.e. the awful "Super ASBOs" which will make it a criminal offence via the lower civil standard of proof "on the balance of probabilities", complicated by the usual legal nonsense in trying to define probable intent, for activities where there is no evidence of actual serious crime.

  • This will no doubt limit the Parliamentary scrutiny of all the sneaky consequential amendments and knock on effects about increasing inchoate offences.

  • There seem to be heavy amendments to the Computer Misuse Act, amending the very recent amendments to this Act brought in by the Police and Justice Act, which have not yet even been commenced. Some of these look like a tidying up exercise, but we will look into the exact implications of omitting various sections and substituting words like "or" for "and", which could have enormous effects.

  • We are extremely worried that the specific inclusion of things like the incitement clause in the Official Secrets Act under these new inchoate offences, means a further clampdown on Government whistleblowers, the media and bloggers.

  • Similarly, the inclusion of Public Order Act offences, in the schedules under this Bill, also mean that any "encouragement"
    of demonstrations and protests might also fall foul of it.

  • There are totally unnecessary surveillance powers under the Regulation of investigatory Powers Act for tax inspectors, to inherit the powers under the combined HM Revenue and Customs, supposedly to help investigate serious organised crime. As we pointed out before, (see Is SOCA so useless, that HM Revenue & Customs really needs "bugging and phone-tap powers" ?), if these crimes are serious enough to warrant intrusive surveillance and telephone taps etc, then they should not be investigated by tax officials, especially where they involve corrupt or coerced civil servants in the HMRC or DWP, they should be left to the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which already has those powers.

  • There is also amendment i.e. a weakening of the Data Protection Act.

  • Our friends at the Open Rights Group need to look carefully at the inclusion of various copyright and trademark offences into the schedules of this Serious Crime Bill.

  • The power of a police constable to seize cash and financial assets under the Asset Recovery Agency powers being transferred to SOCA, is extended to include "accredited financial investigators". All well and good, but what disciplinary sanctions do these "accredited financial investigators" come under ? What complaints procedure is there against them for abuse of their powers ? Who supervises the "accreditation" ? There is no clue about this in the Bill.

  • There is also the concept of allowing "data matching" by an "anti-fraud" body. This is obviously intended to legitimise the current financial industry fraudster blacklist schemes, which is ok, except that it would appear that just about anybody can declare themselves to be one of these "anti-fraud" legal persons, including, phishing websites etc.!

Let us know if you spot any more evil or unintended consequences smuggled in to this Bill.


Comments

Whilst I can't speak for the Open Rights Group, I'm not personally worried about the IP infringement offences -- they're all commercial scale infringement offences. No grannies with iPods here :o)


With regards to the odious Serious Crime Prevention Orders (*) I find it interesting that the Home Secretary will have the power to exempt classes of people from having SCPOs imposed on them -- see section 7.

(*) Could we end up seeing the following from some future judge? "I think your conduct was more likely than not to have facilitated a hypothetical serious crime in outer Elbonia and was probably not reasonable in the circumstances, ergo you can only communicate with home office approved individuals, observe a 7am to 7pm curfew, work for me at other times, and spend your weekends in this caravan here so that you don't do it again and the public is protected. Oops, I see you're the Home Secretary's butler and he's exempted all his staff from these orders, sorry about that mixup, you're free to go."


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