Wednesday, March 02, 2005

There is no justification for an attack on our civil liberties

One of the great paradoxes of Tony Blair's government is that whilst he supports Bush's desire to bring the benefits of freedom around the world (a desire which I wholeheartedly share), he is more than prepared to destroy the freedom of British citizens which lie threatened by fundamentalist terrorists.

If we are supposed to be defending freedom, then we must have fundamental principles that cannot be breached - even if we put our citizens at risk by upholding them. As a free people, we have the right to a fair trial. We have a right to defend ourselves, no matter how dangerous we may be considered to be, in a court of law. Any attempt to restrict our freedom MUST be proved in a court of law.

I am not prepared for any of my rights as a citizen to be eroded on the say-so of a politician - and especially not a politician as blundering and incompetent as Charles Clarke. To place someone under house arrest on one man's judgement flies in the face of freedoms that have existed in this country for hundreds of years. I am not a great fan of reliance on the argument of tradition. If something has a purpose, it can be justified without reference to its longevity. Fortunately, opposition to the Prevention of Terrorism Act rests on many key points:

1) Laws should be written in a manner which is applicable in all possible circumstances. The granting of powers of house arrest to the Home Secretary should not be. What if, God forbid, the BNP were ever to get into power? Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, their Home Secretary could have the power to arrest leaders of the Asian community pretending there was some spurious threat - and this only being challengeable by a court after the event. There need to be checks and balances on the exercising of any power, and this means that one man should never be given the powers with which Labour currently want to invest the Home Office.

2) If a man really is a threat to national security, it must be provable in a court of law. I maintain an open mind as to whether this has to be in an open court - I can see, for example, that it might be better to have a rigorous appeals procedure but the judicial process takes place in camera to prevent the publication of important and sensitive materials. That said, the matter must be provable to an independent judiciary. The judicial process must not become politicised.

3) This is bad legislation rushed through because the Government was embarrassed by the ruling of the Law Lords that indefinite imprisonment in Belmarsh was wrong and flew in the face of all our laws. So, blinded by their own hubris and determined not to have to actually admit they were wrong, they have concocted a scheme to allow them to incarcerate someone and remove them of all their liberties. Do they really think that if someone is under house arrest, using the Internet is a danger to anyone? Do they really think that if someone is going to be considered to be under house arrest, the security services will not know exactly what they are looking at at any given time, and with whom they are communicating? Indeed, removing them from networks one they are identified as a threat may even be harmful to national security - prevents the security services from using known sources to infiltrate the groups.

What depresses me more is that we never hear any coherent opposition to such profoundly illiberal measures from the Tories - and the Lib Dems are ineffective in making any of their points count. Instead, it is the media who have been taking the lead in opposing such dreadful legislation.

We may live in dangerous times. But the reason we are in danger is because there are people who wish to destroy our freedom. We should be against them not only because they wish to kill us, but because they wish to destroy a way of life which guarantees freedom, and forms of government which give people real personal choice. To erode these away is no defence at all.