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Liberal Democrat vision for a free and open society

March 11, 2012 5:34 PM
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat Spring Conference today reaffirmed its commitments to safeguarding civil liberties, condemned the damage Labour did to civil liberties and welcomed the Coalition Government's commitment to restore civil liberties.

Conference also called for the Coalition Government to do more, including:

  • Going further to protect the right to free speech
  • Restoring the right to protest
  • Restoring individual freedom through changes to stop and search legislation, a reduction in the use of civil orders such as ASBOs for criminal activity and a ban on mosquito devices

Commenting, Julian Huppert MP, who proposed the motion, said:

"The Coalition Government is doing the right thing by working to restore our civil liberties. Labour's legislative assault on our liberties has been very damaging for our society and has been disastrous for the reputation of the police who enforced it.

"Thanks to Liberal Democrats, the Protections of Freedoms Bill, the scrapping of ID cards, the changes to the DNA database to protect innocent people and bringing an end to 'snooping powers' for councils show a clear break with our recent past.

"We have done well so far, but there is still much more to do. I am delighted that Conference today endorsed the Liberal Democrat vision for a free and open society which supports individuals, their rights and freedoms."

Please find the full motion, as passed, below:

Civil Liberties

Conference believes that:

  1. This Government needs to undo the damage done to civil liberties, including Labour's sustained assault on basic freedoms.
  2. It is the duty of Liberal Democrats to safeguard basic freedoms against the encroachment of state power and unfair discrimination in society.
  3. Liberal Democrats have an excellent tradition of promoting human rights, and should continue to support both the Human Rights Act and our 2009 conference motion Standing Up for Civil Liberties.

Conference therefore welcomes the introduction of the Protection of Freedoms Bill and other measures taken by this Government to restore civil liberties, including:

  1. Scrapping of ID cards.
  2. Removal of innocent people from the national DNA database.
  3. Controls on the misuse of CCTV and local authority surveillance.
  4. Ending the taking of biometric material from children without their parents' consent.
  5. Abolition of the ContactPoint database.
  6. Ending of 28 day detention without charge.
  7. Abolition of Control Orders and the end of internal exile.
  8. Rolling back of government powers of entry into your home.
  9. Commitment to review the powers of bailiffs.
  10. Dramatically increasing openness of government data.
  11. The repeal of provisions which banned protest near Parliament.
  12. Reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
  13. Ending Labour's policy of routinely detaining children for immigration purposes.

But conference notes that:

  1. I. The government needs to go further in protecting the right to free speech when:

a) Police can still prosecute those who use words and behaviour which are merely insulting, not abusive or threatening.

b) The cost of defamation proceedings limits freedom of expression and the protection of reputation to the rich and powerful.

  1. II. Vigilance is needed as the right to peaceful protest is constantly under threat - for example international attempts to control recent protests, such as the 'Occupy' movement, have led to disproportionate policing and an undermining of the right to peaceful protest.
  1. III. Individual freedom must be upheld:

a) Police powers, such as stop and search, have been used in a discriminatory way, which has caused a breakdown in relationships with the police and has been identified as one of the factors in the summer riots.

b) People must have equal access to justice for society to be free and fair.

c) The equality impact of surveillance is too little researched, too little known and of crucial importance to the cohesion of our society.

  1. IV. The public's right of access to information and individual private data must be protected:

a) Public organisations, and private companies contracted to deliver public services, continue to withhold information.

b) Police and other agencies tend to hoard private data, with risks to individual liberty as technology allows more efficient cross-referencing.

c) Government has a poor record of protecting private data from wider dissemination.

Conference therefore calls for:

  1. The right to free speech to be protected through:

a) The repeal of section 5 of the Public Order Act, which creates 'non-intentional' speech offences, and the removal of 'insulting' from Section 4A of the Public Order Act, both of which have been used to criminalise legitimate freedom of expression.

b) Amendment of Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 to include context and intentionality to prevent the criminalisation of jokes.

c) Review of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 to ensure that it covers intentional conduct only.

d) The introduction of a libel reform bill in the next Queen's speech to provide better protection for every citizen for free speech and protection of reputation.

e) The creation or development of effective public interest defences in relevant criminal and civil offences to protect and foster investigative journalism.

  1. The right to protest to be restored through:

a) The repeal of the offence of 'Aggravated Trespass', as set out in Sections 68 and 69 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and used in the Fortnum and Mason trial.

b) A properly regulated right to protest in quasi-public spaces to balance the interests of citizens and landowners.

c) An end to threats being made against protestors who have done nothing wrong, such as the threatened use of rubber bullets before demonstrations.

d) The end of kettling large groups of people.

e) Resisting new powers to impose curfews on unconvicted people.

f) Not extending the existing powers on people covering their faces.

  1. The restoration of individual freedom and policing by consent through:

a) Greater control of the use of stop and search powers; in particular provisions in the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which have been used indiscriminately and beyond their stated intent.

b) A review to reduce the use of civil orders, such as ASBOs, for criminal activity.

c) Stronger controls over the use of mobile fingerprint devices and non-lethal devices such as tasers, sound cannons and laser lights.

d) A guarantee that where citizens are not required to provide their name and address this will be made clear to individuals by the police.

e) Guidelines to regulate the collection, storage and use of videos and photos of innocent people taken by the police, particularly Forward Intelligence Teams.

f) A ban on high frequency Mosquito devices which discriminate against young people.

g) Tighter controls to ensure the ban on police covering their badges.

h) The introduction of safeguards to prevent pre-emptive arrests and pre-charge bail conditions being used to restrict civil liberties and stifle peaceful protest.

i) Full review of the powers of bailiffs and the repeal of the power for the Secretary of State to further enable bailiffs to use force against people.

j) An end to the ban on photography of police and preventing police from forcibly deleting photos with no grounds.

k) Oversight of undercover police tactics to protect citizens from unfair and unwarranted surveillance.

  1. The right of access to information and individual data protection to be expanded through:

a) A review to reduce exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act.

b) A review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

c) Increased powers for the Information Commissioner and tougher sentences for breaches of the Data Protection Act.

d) An end to the Ministerial veto over information tribunal decisions.

e) The creation of one overall Privacy Commissioner with specialists leading on each separate area.

  1. The right to privacy to be protected by:

a) Ensuring that there shall be no interception of telephone calls, SMS messages, social media, internet or any other communications without named, specific and time-limited warrants.

b) Guaranteeing that any communications data kept by service providers in accordance with the EU Data Retention Directive are kept securely by the service providers, and that they be only released to government bodies with strict and strengthened safeguards.

c) Ensuring that service providers are not mandated by law to collect communications data by any method that would also provide access to content information, unless specifically authorised by a warrant.

d) Ensuring that service providers are not mandated by law to collect third-party communications data for non-business purposes by any method.

e) Renegotiating the EU Data Retention Directive and changing how it is implemented intoUKlaw, to provide a better balance towards privacy.

  1. A second Protection of Freedoms Bill to enact any necessary legislative changes.
  1. The protection of fair and equal access to justice, through:

a) A properly funded system whereby access to legal advice and representation before the courts is not denied to those otherwise unable to bear the costs.

b) The continued provision of legal aid, for those who cannot afford to pay for legal services, in serious cases where a failure to provide legal services may lead to injustice.

c) The continued provision of free legal advice and assistance to all held in custody regardless of means and merits.

d) The continued provision of legal aid to those who qualify in appeals cases where there are grounds of appeal, and ensuring that the scope of civil legal aid covers appropriate legal help and assistance in categories of law where the issues raised are of substantial importance to the assisted person and which cannot be settled by alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

e) Adequately supporting ADR and other means of resolving civil legal problems through the training and provision of mediation and conciliation services, and through direct support of Citizens Advice Bureaux and Law Centres.

f) The implementation of the party's policy on Access to Justice debated at Conference in 2011.