Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Monday, 2 February 2004

Blunkett's latest plan to erode British democracy

Every few weeks or months the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, proposes new legislation which he dares to call 'reforms' with the aim, he says, of improving life in Britain in some way. They usually have one thing in common - an increase in the power of the state to interfere with or curtail the rights of the individual. Often the justification is that the proposals, if implemented, would improve the effectiveness of the Police and/or the Judiciary or that the change is required in order to help fight 'terrorism'. Another thing these proposals have in common, mostly (but not unfortunately always), is that the public outrage created soon causes the latest 'sound-bite' crackpot idea to be abandoned.

His latest outrage did not even take place in this country, but during a visit to India. Incidentally I am at a loss to understand why our Home Secretary is travelling on official business outside the United Kingdom and why he has made such radical proposals during such an excursion, even if there is a valid reason for it. Surely foreign trips are the province of our Foreign Secretary, or perhaps a Trade or Defence minister?

Blunkett has proposed:
- a major change to the level of evidence which would be required to secure a conviction by reducing it from "beyond all reasonable doubt" to "on the balance of probabilities";
- the applcation of this legislation to British nationals and allowing trials using this new level of proof to be held in secret;
- judges in cases involving evidence deemed 'sensitive' to require security-vetting;
- the withholding of 'sensitive' evidence from defendants.

Under emergency legislation, "the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act", introduced soon after the World Trade Center outrage in September 2001, foreign nationals are permitted to be held indefinitely and without trial, but in at least some of the cases they have the opportunity to return to a country of origin. This affects, currently, 14 persons - who were here ostensibly to claim asylum status. Two of the 14 have elected to return to their home countries rather than remain in prison.

The new proposed legislation would effectively extend these draconian powers to British nationals and, unlike the 2001 Act is unlikely (even theoretically) to be a temporary measure to combat a specific threat, but to alter fundamentally the tenets of British justice which have evolved over the last 800 or so years to provide increasing levels of protection for the individual against the tyrannical exercise of power by the state.

Specially worrying are indications from the main Opposition Party leader, Mr Michael Howard, that his Party would back the proposals if a 'proper' balance could be achieved to give:

"... the British people the proper protection against terrorism and not depriving innocent people of their liberty"

I have, to put it mildly, grave concern that putting such draconian power permanently in the hands of the state can result only, sooner or later, in the creation of what is effectively a police state. It must be resisted vociferously and continuously until abandoned.

Mr Blunkett has now made so many anti-democratic proposals as Home Secretary that his suitability to remain in government, far less in his current position, must be more than just seriously in doubt, for there is none. We need another Home Secretary, and quickly, for the sake of our democracy.

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