UK Government Watch

 2010: April-June



21st June   

Updated: Unacceptable Behaviour...

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Home Secretary bans Zakir Naik from preaching in Britain
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zakir naikAn Indian Muslim preacher has been banned from entering the UK for his unacceptable behaviour , the home secretary says.

Zakir Naik, a 44-year-old television preacher, had been due to give a series of lectures in London and Sheffield.

The home secretary can stop people entering the UK if she believes there is a threat to national security, public order or the safety of citizens. That includes banning people if she believes their views glorify terrorism, promote violence or encourage other serious crime.

May said: Numerous comments made by Dr Naik are evidence to me of his unacceptable behaviour. Coming to the UK is a privilege, not a right and I am not willing to allow those who might not be conducive to the public good to enter the UK. Exclusion powers are very serious and no decision is taken lightly or as a method of stopping open debate on issues.

This is the first person who has been excluded from the UK since Ms May became home secretary last month.

Naik is based in Mumbai (Bombay) where he works for the Peace TV channel. The BBC's Sanjiv Buttoo says that he is recognised as an authority on Islam but also has a reputation for making disparaging remarks about other religions.

Update: Appeal

21st June 2010. Based on article from islamophobia-watch.com

The Indian Muslim preacher banned by the home secretary from entering the UK for his unacceptable behaviour is to challenge the ruling in the courts.

The Islamic Research Foundation said in a statement: In the wake of the exclusion order and based on legal advice, Dr Zakir Naik intends to bring the matter before the High Court ... and request a judicial review to have the exclusion order overturned.

 

10th June   

Law Commission Offending Public Decency...

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Recommending the continued use of a catch-all law so open to abuse
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Law Commission logo Simplification of Criminal Law: Public Nuisance and Outraging Public Decency

Public consultation open until 30 June 2010

The Law Commission are consulting on the catch-all laws that allow police and the authorities to make it up as they go along. They have dismissed more fundamental limitations on the law claiming that case law has tightened up its application. Try arguing case law with a policeman bullying you over a minorly insulting t-shirt.

Obviously catch-all laws are useful to the authorities, and are unlikely to be removed from their armory (as they put it), but at least they could offer some sort of statutory compensation when police and the authorities are found to be misusing the laws for their own convenience or even maliciousness.

Anyway the Law Commission have at least suggested improvements to some of the more grand scale injustices incorporated into the current common law mess.

The Law Commission write:

Is it fair for a person to be liable for an offence that can carry a life sentence, if they didn’t intend to cause harm and weren’t reckless?

In a consultation, the Law Commission is asking whether the common law offences of public nuisance and outraging public decency are in need of reform.

Recent case law has tightened up the application of these historically broad and unclear areas. But the Law Commission is suggesting that clarity is still required around individuals’ intention to cause harm.

It is currently possible for someone to be guilty of causing public nuisance or outraging public decency without intending, or even being reckless as to, the effect of their actions on others. And the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

In line with its aim to ensure that the law is fair, modern and accessible, the Law Commission is seeking feedback on the suggestions that:

  • clearly defined fault elements should be introduced to the offences of public nuisance and outraging public decency,
     
  • the prosecution must prove that the accused intended that their actions would cause damage or outrage, or were aware of the possibility and recklessly went ahead, and
  • the offences should be given proper statutory definitions.

Professor Jeremy Horder, the Law Commissioner leading the project, said: For the law to be fair, it must be readily understood by ordinary people. We believe that the reforms we are suggesting would bring these offences into line with other crimes of similar gravity, make the law fairer and help people understand when they may be at risk of breaking the law.

 

25th May   

Offsite: Speculation of a Scaled Down Ofcom...

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How should Jeremy Hunt confront Ofcom?
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libdem con logoOfcom's budget for 2010/11 is 142.5 million GBP. That compares to the legacy regulators' combined budget of 118.3 million GBP in 2002/03. Now that's a significant nominal increase, but perhaps a real decrease if you fully buy Ofcom's spin. It also depends on whether you consider Ofcom's duties to have changed much since 2002/03. My take: Ofcom still spends far too much for this digital era. The regulator has achieved some easy efficiencies but needs to make much harder choices to lower its total cost to regulated firms and the public.

The grand, withering vision. After the 2005 general election Lord Currie, then chair of Ofcom gave a speech where he stated:

In practice a bias against intervention means that we will try to get out of the way. I have also said that we must encourage innovation and investment in the sector, and the best way to achieve this is by being somewhere else. In essence, an effective regulator must aim to regulate itself out of a job. This withering of regulation will be seen by some as a threat. But I see it as a proper ambition.

Let's face it, Ofcom appears to have quietly abandoned its ambition. In some respects, the fault lies with Parliament, the government, regulated firms (and even the complaining public). But in many important respects, Ofcom has shown a desire to intervene even where there was no statutory duty and the evidence showed it might have very little real impact with its actions (eg, junk food advertising).

...Read full article

DCMS Takes a Budget Cut

Based on article from 38minutes.ning.com

DCMS logoBroadcast magazine writes that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is to have its budget trimmed by £88m and Ofcom is preparing to have its powers reigned in under the new coalition government's public spending cuts.

Ofcom is bracing itself for a significant reduction in its powers. Officials are still waiting to hear how the details of the cuts will impact them, but are expecting some of its current responsibilities to be brought into central government in line with the Tories' pre-election pledge.

Insiders do not expect the body to be scrapped altogether.

 

24th May   

Updated: Great British Repeal Bill...

You can't get more promising than this
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libdem con logoFrom the text of the coalition agreement reached by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats:

Civil liberties

The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.

This will include:

  • A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
     
  • The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.
     
  • Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.
     
  • The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.
     
  • Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
     
  • The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.
     
  • The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.
     
  • The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
     
  • Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
     
  • Further regulation of CCTV.
     
  • Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.
     
  • A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

Offsite: The voices of liberty have triumphed and Britain is better for it

17th May 2010. See article from guardian.co.uk by Henry Porter

Henry PorterOne of the great pleasures of last week was hearing Jack Straw speaking on the Today programme in that patient, reasonable way of the true autocrat, and suddenly realising that I never have to pay attention to him again. Nor for a very long time will I have to listen to Mandelson, Campbell, Clarke, Smith, Reid, Falconer, Blunkett, Woolas or Blears: they're history and the New Labour project to extend state control into so many areas of our lives is incontestably over.

The Queen's speech, now being drafted, will establish a Freedom or Great Repeal bill – the title has not yet been chosen – as a major part of the coalition's legislative programme. All the areas detailed in the agreement between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, such as the abolition of ID cards and the children's database (ContactPoint database??), the further regulation of CCTV and the restoration of right to protest will be in it. Measures that weren't in the published agreement will reassert the right to silence and protect people against the huge number of new powers of entry into the home allowed by Labour.

Separate from this will be a complete review of terror legislation that will assess 28-day detention, control orders, section 44 stop and search powers, the harassment of photographers, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and its amendments, which sanctioned 650 agencies and local authorities to carry out undercover surveillance operations on, for example, people suspected of making dubious school applications for their children, eel fishermen in Poole harbour, punt operators in Cambridge, depressed police officers and malingering council workers.

...Read full article

Update: Tell us the laws you want to get scrapped

Dangerous Pictures...Dangerous Cartoons...Dangerous Prostitution...and many more. Perhaps it would be more efficient to list Labour's laws actually worth keeping. (Repealing betting tax is one that springs to mind).

19th May 2010. Based on article from telegraph.co.uk

nick cleggThe public will be asked what laws they want ripped up, in far-reaching reforms designed to put back faith in politics , the Deputy Prime Minister will say.

The reordering of power will sweep away Labour legislation and new criminal offences deemed to have eroded personal freedom.

It will involve the end of the controversial ID cards scheme, the scrapping of universal DNA databases – in which the records of thousands of innocent people have been stored – and restrictions placed on internet records. The use of CCTV cameras will also be reviewed.

Dubbed the Great Reform Act , the measures will close down the ContactPoint children's database. Set up by Labour last year, it includes detailed information on all 11 million youngsters under 18. In addition, schools will not be able to take a child's fingerprint without parental permission.

In an attempt to protect freedom of speech, ministers will review libel laws, while limits on peaceful protest will be removed.

Clegg said the Government wanted to establish a fundamental resettlement of the relationship between state and citizen that puts you in charge .

In a speech in London he will say: This Government is going to transform our politics so the state has far less control over you, and you have far more control over the state. This Government is going to break up concentrations of power and hand power back to people, because that is how we build a society that is fair.

As we tear through the statute book, we'll do something no government ever has: We will ask you which laws you think should go. Because thousands of criminal offences were created under the previous government. Taking people's freedom away didn't make our streets safe. Obsessive law-making simply makes criminals out of ordinary people. So, we'll get rid of the unnecessary laws – and once they're gone, they won't come back. We will introduce a mechanism to block pointless new criminal offences.

The measures to repeal so-called surveillance state laws will be included in next week's Queen's Speech.

Under the coalition agreement, Clegg and David Cameron said they would end the storage of internet and email regulations and email records without good reason . This is likely to mean the end of plans for the Government and the security services to intercept and keep emails and text messages.

Update: Vetting and Barring

23rd May 2010. See article from theregister.co.uk

The new government has announced plans to scale back vetting and barring.

It says the vetting and barring scheme, used to check the backgrounds of people working with children and vulnerable adults, will be reviewed to scale it back to common sense levels .

Update: Queen's Speech

24th May 2010. Based on article from telegraph.co.uk

The Queen's Speech will contain pledges to introduce 21 bills and other legislation during the next parliamentary year. Here are a few with some relevance to Melon Farmers

Identity Documents Bill (Home Office).

The imminent scrapping of identity cards and the planned National Identity Register is already being foreshadowed on the Home Office website. This Bill will enact a policy that both coalition partners put forward but the fact it is one of the first three pieces of legislation to be unveiled is a boost for Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems' civil liberties agenda.

The Great Repeals Bill aka The Freedom Bill (Cabinet Office).

This will enact a raft of reforms described by Nick Clegg last week as the most radical redistribution of power from the state to the people in 200 years. It will include the scrapping of universal DNA databases and the placing of restrictions on internet records while the use of CCTV cameras will be reviewed, the ContactPoint children's database will be shut down. Libel laws will be reviewed while limits on peaceful protest will be removed.

Public Bodies Bill. (Cabinet Office)

An assault on quangos is likely to be a key feature of efforts by the new government to find billions of pounds of efficiency savings across Whitehall. The drive was promised by the Conservatives in opposition but, significantly, has been handed to Nick Clegg and his team at the Cabinet Office.

Ofcom in particular have been mentioned for scaling down

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (Home Office).

The vehicle for making police forces more accountable, including oversight by what ministers refer to as a directly elected individual . Police must also publish monthly local crime data statistics. This is also likely to include a fresh crackdown on anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related violence.

Any chance that the police can be prevented from abusing laws and harassing photographers, protestors, anti-religious cartoon pamphleters and even street preachers.

 

16th May   

Updated: Ministers of Censorship...

Cameron appoints new government censors
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libdem con logoTheresa May has been appointed Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality in David Cameron's first Cabinet.

In this latter role of Minister for Equality her appointment attracted immediate criticism. Her voting record is rated as moderately against equal rights for homosexuals by The Public Whip website. In recent years she was absent or voted against most gay equality measures.

Kenneth Clarke had been appointed Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Jeremy Hunt has been appointed secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport in a newly created department in the Lib Dem/Conservative coalition government. Hunt's new brief combines the Department for Culture, Media and Sport with Tessa Jowell's ministerial responsibility for the London 2012 Olympics.

The Lib Dems are expected to have one minister in the new department, although it is understood responsibility for media is likely to go to a Tory.

Update: Promising Appointments

16th May 2010, thanks to Harvey

The following government appointments are of interest to Melon Farmers

Edward Garnier has been appointed Solicitor General and Lord Wallace (of Miller/Wallace amendment fame) has been appointed Advocate General for Scotland.

Along with Ken Clarke at the Ministry of Justice, the LibDem Lord McNally is also there as Minister of State which gives me hope that the commitments to scrapping ID cards, extending Freedom of Information and the rest as detailed in an earlier post are not there simply as window dressing, but will actually be carried through.

Update: Lynne Featherstone

17th May 2010, thanks to David.

Apparently most of the actual work at the Ministry of Women and Equality - while Theresa May concentrates on her Home Office duties - will be down to Lynne Featherstone, a Lib Dem with a far more pro-equality voting record.

See www.lynnefeatherstone.org/2010/05/doing-not-saying.htm

Update: Theresa May Minister for Lap Dancing

23rd May 2010. Based on article from morningadvertiser.co.uk

A DCMS spokesman said some licensing issues are set to be taken on by the Home Office; for example, the licensing of lap dancing clubs.