Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Defending civil liberty and human rights; getting the balance right

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In the book, I observe how difficult it is for governments to get the balance right when it comes to questions of civil liberty and human rights. The Coalition Government’s Protection of Freedoms Act was born of a belief that the previous Labour government had got the balance wrong.

But the Coalition Government itself is struggling with this issue with two measures that are currently causing great concern in the civil liberty/human rights arena.

The first is the Justice and Security Bill 2012. The issue that has drawn the fire of human rights groups is the proposed introduction of what is called the ‘Closed Material Procedure’ which would allow, in certain civil cases being hear in courts, evidence about the work of UK Intelligence services to be heard behind closed doors.

The battlelines are clear and have been hard fought in the press and in Parliament. The Government argues that this is a practical way of admitting certain evidence to a hearing  behind closed doors which it would not be in the public interest to disclose publicly; opponents argue equally strongly that this is an attack on the principle of openness and transparency in judicial proceedings that should be resisted at all costs.

The second is the Draft Data Communications Bill which is currently the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government argues that the arrival of new forms of communication has resulted in the police and security services facing new challenges when it comes to keeping tabs on those suspected of serious criminal activity, who need new powers to deal with these challenges.

Opponents argue that this is simply a ‘snoopers charter’ that will seriously undermine the right to personal privacy.

These are both live measures that make clear how important the Parliamentary process is in ensuring that arguments for and against such measures are properly debated. The final outcome of both measures is as yet far from certain, but given the importance of the role of law in balancing the interests of the state against the rights of the individual, they provide excellent illustrations of the problem of balance.

What do you think? Has the Government got it right? or has it cone a step too far?

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Written by lwtmp

November 20, 2012 at 10:13 am

Posted in Chapter 11, Chapter 2

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