11 February 2011

Freedom Bill - Now and Then

Two years ago, the Liberal Democrats launched a draft Freedom Bill.

Today, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister announced a real-life Freedom Bill.

Let's go through the 2009 list of measures to see how progress is going:

• Scrap ID cards for everyone, including foreign nationals - Already scrapped by the Coalition, but for British nationals only.

• Ensure that there are no restrictions in the right to trial by jury for serious offences including fraud - In the Bill.

• Restore the right to protest in Parliament Square, at the heart of our democracy - Fail.

• Abolish the flawed control orders regime - Already replaced by 'Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures'.

• Renegotiate the unfair extradition treaty with the United States. - Fail.

• Restore the right to public assembly for more than two people. - Fail.

• Scrap the ContactPoint database of all children in Britain. - Already scrapped by the Coalition.

• Strengthen freedom of information by giving greater powers to the information commissioner and reducing exemptions. - In the Bill.

• Stop criminalising trespass. - In the Bill.

• Restore the public interest defence for whistleblowers. - Fail.

• Prevent allegations of "bad character" from being used in court. - Fail.

• Restore the right to silence when accused in court. - Fail.

• Prevent bailiffs from using force. - Fail.

• Restrict the use of surveillance powers to the investigation of serious crimes and stop councils snooping. - In the Bill.

• Restore the principle of double jeopardy in UK law. - Fail.

• Remove innocent people from the DNA database. - The Bill makes good progress, but suspects of serious crimes could still have their DNA retained for three years.

• Reduce the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 14 days. - Permanently fixed in the Bill.

• Scrap the ministerial veto that allowed the government to block the release of cabinet minutes relating to the Iraq war. - Fail.

• Require explicit parental consent for biometric information to be taken from children. - In the Bill.

• Regulate CCTV following a Royal Commission on cameras. - No specific mention of a Royal Commission, but further regulation is in the Bill.

So out of 20 items on the original Lib Dem draft Bill, 8 are happening, 3 are happening in a limited form, but 9 have yet to see any progress.

The situation basically looks like this:

There are also several bonus freedoms that are to be restored in this Bill:

• It will be illegal for a vehicle to be clamped or towed away by anyone but the police.

• Restrictions on stop and search powers.

• The Vetting and Barring scheme will be scrapped.

• Old convictions involving consensual gay sex will be stripped from criminal records.

• There will be no more restrictions on the times when a marriage or civil partnership can take place.

And that's still not all. In 2012 the Ministry of Justice plan to introduce a Defamation Bill to reform our suffocating libel laws and a Repeal Bill to remove unnecessary laws from the statute.

Given that the Lib Dems didn't have any of this as their Top 4 priorities in their manifesto (much to my disappointment), I'm delighted we've made significant progress in all these areas. My only concern is that the Your Freedom website had little to nothing to do with any of programme, but perhaps the Repeal Bill will take more inspiration from the public suggestions.


Anonymous said...

Please do not repeat the lie that old convictions for gay sex will be stripped from criminal records.

This is not what the Bill says.

Read more on my blog here.

Duncan Stott said...

From the explanatory notes:

"Chapter 3 of Part 5 provides for a person to apply to the Secretary of State for a conviction or caution for an offence under section 12 or 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 ("the 1956 Act"), and associated offences, involving consensual gay sex with another person aged 16 or over, to become a disregarded conviction or caution. This Chapter further provides for such disregarded convictions and cautions to be deleted from the Police National Computer ("PNC") and other police records so that they no longer show up on criminal record checks."

How could this go any further?