First Plenary ‘Citizens and the state: The crisis of liberty’

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Session Info
10.00 – 11.15

The crisis of fundamental rights and freedoms

The last decade has seen an unprecedented attack on Britain’s fundamental rights and freedoms. Not even in wartime has a government removed so many defining qualities from the stock of British liberty. As 28-day detention without trial was introduced in the wake of 9.11 and 7.7, together with wide stop and search powers and control orders, the more general rights of assembly, protest and free speech  also suffered.  Some 3,000 new crimes were created and in the courts there has been persistent attempt to reduce the rights of defendants. The principle of trial by jury is constantly under attack. Hearsay evidence was introduced for the first time and the hugely symbolic convention, which held that an Englishman’s home was his castle, was abandoned after 400 years. Nothing is sacrosanct to a government that evidently believes Tony Blair’s dictum that “civil liberties arguments were made for another age.” But it is the creation of the database state that now threatens not just privacy but the delicate balance between state and individual that every free society must preserve. Britain has the largest DNA database in the world. The first ID cards are being issued and the National Identity Register begins its business of lifelong surveillance. The children’s database ContactPoint has been launched (as of January). Plans have been announced to take 19 pieces of information from every person travelling abroad, or to Northern Ireland. Every journey by motorway and through town and city centre is recorded and the information retained for two years. Finally, the government has announced plans to retain data from every phone call, email and Internet connection. British democracy is in crisis and it now seems likely that the constitutional rights that we all believed were our birthright will not be our children’s.

If all of the above is true,  as it is, certain questions arise which go to the heart of the way we allow ourselves to be governed. Are Parliament and the parties failing in their duty? If that is the case and the government is the source of the problem ,where do we look to protect our liberties?

Chair: Georgina Henry (executive comment editor, The Guardian)
Speakers: Dominic Grieve QC MP (Shadow Attorney General)
  Helena Kennedy QC (Doughty Street Chambers)
  Ken Macdonald QC (former Director of Public Prosecutions)
  Sir David Varney (Prime Minister’s Adviser on Public Service Transformation)