Here it is, my make or break, why I'm a member of the Liberal Democrats and why I'll almost certainly never vote for Labour again, one of my core beliefs: Civil Liberties. Labour eroded so many freedoms that most of us take for granted during their 13 years in power that it beggars belief. This has been the coalition's first major test (both parties wanted rid of ID cards), so how did they do:
Well some good points:
28 days detention without trail has been scaled back to the original 14 days. This is good, but not great. It is at least 10 days too long - I'd probably say 13 days too long. If there is reason to detain someone then there should be reason to charge them with a crime. It isn't exactly like removing this to a few hours/overnight would make us more vulnerable than other countries as very few have such measures in place. I am pleased it has been reduced but it doesn't feel like a victory (that's 2 weeks of someones life they are taking).
Police can no longer "stop and search". Section 44 has been removed and is a great improvement.
Safeguards have also been added to the "Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act", which hit the headlines last year when Poole council used the act to see if a family was sending it's children to a school that was outside of it's catchment area.
However that said, there is a bad thing, control orders have gone, but have been replaced by Control Orders Lite as they are being called. Suspects are still tagged and have to name an overnight residence (which may vary) but curfew's removed. Certain other freedoms are also still removed, such as using a mobile phone only if numbers are supplied and passwords supplied for internet use, ban on overseas travel and meeting other suspects (both understandable I guess) and worst of all ban on visiting places where surveillance would be difficult. As far as I am concerned though the crux of the matter is that these suspects are punished without ever being found guilty of a crime. In the UK we have a great history of innocent until proven guilty, this goes completely against this. Not only do these people not get a fair trial they do not even see what they are being accused of.
I wish I could find the figures somewhere that show how many people have been:
a) Detained for longer than say 3 days without charge, then how many of them were eventually charged and found guilty of their supposed crime.
b) How many people are or have been under control orders, how many of these have subsequently been released and no charges brought against them.
c) How many lives has this saved?
This is people's lives that are being damaged, not just theirs but their family and friends as well. If there is any evidence that they intend on hurting other people then fine, put them before a judge and jury and see if they think the evidence stacks up. If there is not any evidence then punishing them is just moving one step closer to a police state. You only live once, paranoia, scaremongering and wanting to be seen as 'tough on security' cannot be used as a reason to potentially ruin someones life.
So how have they done? I'll give them a C-, it's an improvement no question but it is hardly resulting in a freer society. How would we have done if the Lib Dems were not in the coalition? That is the real question. We could have voted against any proposal but we wouldn't have received any support from Labour who I'm sure would increase any powers (90 days sound familiar?) and I think the Tories would have just watered down the 'stop and search' perhaps also letting the 28 days elapse back to 14 also. As such I'd give the Lib Dems a C+, rising to a B if some senior figure comes out and says that all of the steps are a move in the right direction but still fall short of what Lib Dems in power would achieve (B+ if that person is Nick Clegg).