Freedoms Bill published: now you can marry at 6:01pm

Earlier today, the Protection of Freedoms Bill was published which, in the words of Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, “brings to fruition proposals which were first drawn up by Nick Clegg four years ago, and demonstrates our commitment to rolling back unnecessary and intrusive laws introduced by Labour”.

Key provisions of the Bill include the enactment of some previously announced decisions alongside some new, additional proposals:

  • an end to the routine monitoring of 9.3 million people under the radically reformed vetting and barring scheme
  • millions of householders protected from town hall snoopers checking their bins or school catchment area
  • the scrapping of Section 44 powers, which have been used to stop and search hundreds of thousands of innocent people
  • the permanent reduction of the maximum period of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects to 14 days
  • DNA samples and fingerprints of hundreds of thousands of innocent people deleted from police databases
  • thousands of gay men able to clear their name with the removal of out-of-date convictions for consensual acts
  • thousands of motorists protected from rogue wheel clamping firms
  • an end to the fingerprinting of children in schools without parental consent
  • the introduction of a code of practice for CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems (overseen by a new Surveillance Camera Commissioner) to make them more proportionate and effective
  • restrictions on the powers of government departments, local authorities and other public bodies to enter private homes and other premises for investigations and a requirement for all to examine and slim down remaining powers
  • the repeal of powers to hold serious and complex fraud trials without a jury
  • the extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act and strengthening the public rights to data

And also, dramatic drum roll please … the liberalisation of marriage laws to allow people to marry outside the hours of 8am-6pm, which does rather pose the question, what was the point of previously banning marriage at 6:01pm?

Nick Clegg has siad of the Bill,

Freedom is back in fashion – 2011 will be the year that the coalition government hands people their liberty back. I have campaigned for this for many years and I am delighted that we have been able to deliver the Freedoms Bill in government.

Home Office minister Lynne Feahterstone has said of the radical reform to the vetting and barring scheme,

I came into this department and was immediately struck by the need to look again at the vetting and barring scheme and criminal records regime.

I feel the changes that are now being made strike the balance between our own personal liberties whilst ensuring vulnerable people are protected.

One of the many examples of what was wrong with the vetting and barring scheme was the point I picked up in 2009 about the scheme’s guidelines:

Paragraph 5.6.1 of “Guidance Notes for Barring Decision Marking Process” … states in part: “even where a jury has found someone not guilty of having done something, you must always remember that, at most, this means is that the court did not find that someone did something “beyond a reasonable doubt” (the criminal standard of proof).”

My concern is simply this. When a jury acquits it may do so for all sorts of reasons. One may be that it thinks someone was probably guilty, but not “beyond a reasonable doubt”. But another is that it has decided that there is no credible evidence at all for the case.

Imagine the situation where you have been framed for a criminal act, but the truth comes out in court, the jury is completely convinced that you are innocent and you are acquitted. Can you really, hand on heart, say that in such circumstances you would be quite happy for someone to say that all your acquittal means is that “at most all the court has done is decide you didn’t do it beyond a reasonable doubt”.

It was one of the more farcical moments under Labour when official guidelines were issued saying that innocent can’t mean innocent. Thankfully those guidelines were subsequently changed and now the flawed legislation behind them is being put right.

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38 Comments

  • Some people might think marriage is a loss of Liberty

  • the repeal of powers to hold serious and complex fraud trials without a jury

    Only someone who has never sat through such a trial could advocate that – but hey it’s par for the course of letting the bankers and financiers off with it.

    The most highly qualified tax accountants have difficulty understanding these cases but the LibDems think a jury of ordinary people can and actually believe these jury members should have to give up possibly 6 to 24 months of their life to fulfill their public duty – have they no human rights?

    This LibDem party is living on Cloud 9 and accelerating away from Earth at warp speed.

  • I’ve looked again at this rag-bag of freedoms and see nothing about the right to have a job, not go hungry, live in a house and educate your kids. Where have the LibDems gone wrong – they became Tories!

  • Paul McKeown 12th Feb '11 - 12:03am

    Every one of those bullet listed freedoms is to be heartily cheered.

    Well done!

    Err, perhaps with the exception of the second one, about bin inspections and catchment area controls, which, sadly, sounds like a Daily Mail obession scratched on behalf of the Tories. Can’t say I agree with that, but, hey, if that was the quo, I would say fine, there’s an awful lot of welcome quid in exchange!

  • Andrew Suffield 12th Feb '11 - 12:14am

    Err, perhaps with the exception of the second one, about bin inspections and catchment area controls, which, sadly, sounds like a Daily Mail obession scratched on behalf of the Tories.

    That one actually happened – several councils were using anti-terrorism surveillance laws for this purpose. It needs to stop.

  • Some people might think marriage is a loss of Liberty

    They might indeed (and I might even agree) but if people wish to lose their liberty, shouldn’t they be able to do so at whatever time of day they choose 🙂

    Seriously, I wonder where that rule came from? Probably from the same batch of archaic laws that stipulated the groom should stand on the right to keep his sword arm free…

  • toryboysnevergrowup 12th Feb '11 - 8:13am

    No freedom of LibDem councillors from interference by Pickles I note, and I am suprised the freedom of bankers to take whatever bonuses they want after their industry was bailed out by the tax payer has not been enshrined in law.

    What is they say about marry in haste repent at leisure – what time was the coalition agreement signed?

  • Patrick Troy 12th Feb '11 - 8:39am

    I welcome the Bill but there are signs of badly thought out proposals and conflicts between statute and settled law that will need to be resolved by judges. Looks like some of the poorly drafted work of the last government.

    Perhaps the issue is not who is in power but who is drafting the legislation. Time for a clear out of the civil service dead wood.

  • Ed The Snapper 12th Feb '11 - 8:47am

    The first item on this list could have some grim consequences in years to come. I do voluntary work with children and have no objection to being checked periodically. I do not see it as inconvenient but as an important safeguard.

  • Paul McKeown 12th Feb '11 - 8:52am

    @Ed

    As do I, but I rather doubt that I won’t be required to provide a CRB check as per usual. As I understand it, it is mostly the nine million new people who would have been affected by Labour’s last, most pointless, regulation that would have been affected. No doubt there will be some future outrage, which Labour will attempt to blame on this entirely justified change of regulation, but that’s just the rubbish that goes with politics.

  • The repeal of some perfectly sensible restrictions designed to prevent lawbreaking and protect the public will have criminals rubbing their hands with glee. Once again, your pollyanna party has shown that it is concerned with the rights and interests of the perpetrators of crime, not the victims.

  • Stuart Mitchell 12th Feb '11 - 10:53am

    “the scrapping of Section 44 powers”

    The bill talks of “replacing” (and no doubt renaming) them, not scrapping them.

    “the permanent reduction of the maximum period of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects to 14 days”

    If it were permanent then there would be no need for the “Draft Detention of Terrorist Suspects (Temporary Extension) Bill” to exist, would there?

    This is hardly the bonfire of Labour’s repressive laws it’s being promoted as. All we’re seeing is a bit of watering down here, a bit of renaming there, and the parking of some powers into an utterly bizarre semi-legislative state, ready to be activated again at will. This bill is 90% presentation and 10% content.

  • Paul McKeown 12th Feb '11 - 11:47am

    Stop and search? At one time Labour would not have went near that with a bargepole, it was only too aware of the racially discriminatory way it had always been applied (i.e. “black man” = “criminal”). Of course, Labour stopped being a party of principle the day it started chasing after the Daily Mail.

    DNA of the INNOCENT? Volunteer yourself, mate, if you think it is such a good idea.

    As it is, I think the current level of retention is still too high; someone the old idea that sentences should eventually be spent has been forgotten. What ever happened to the idea of rehabilitating offenders and turning them into productive individuals contributing to society, rather than preying on it? Nah, much more satisfying to give in to the urge to get out the witch’s stool, the bonfire and the gibbet.

    Retaining criminal records of former homosexuals who broke former laws out of love one for another? Labour really wants to continue blackening those men’s names? Truly ridiculous, it should be a matter of shame for Labour that removing those records was a Tory policy.

    The repeal of some perfectly sensible restrictions designed to prevent lawbreaking and protect the public will have criminals rubbing their hands with glee.

    Get real and stop the politicking.

    Labour? Progressive, apparently, my eye.

    I’ll be happy to call myself “pollyanna” if Labour thinks any of that unworthy.

    Strewth.

  • Stuart Mitchell 12th Feb '11 - 11:58am

    Looking at a summary of the bill I can’t see a single thing which will enhance my life or freedoms in any way whatsoever. I don’t have a dog which I allow to defecate on pavements; I don’t lie on school application forms; I am not a convicted child molester who’s looking for access to other people’s children; I have no intention of committing any sort of crime for which my DNA could be used to detect and convict me; I do not park my car illegally on private land; I do not commit fraud, complex or not.

    Of course if I *did* do any of the above, there would be much in the bill to bring me cheer. So much for getting the balance right. I guess I’m just not the sort of person this government is interested in making life easier for.

    The few good things that exist in the bill – extensions to FOI, striking off of out-of-date sexual convictions – are just adornments to far more substantive pro-freedom measures brought in by the last government.

    Is a government which protects the “freedoms” of illegal parkers and dog-poo droppers while at the same time making regular threats to remove fundamental worker’s rights really a government which can be claiming to make a net improvement to the cvil liberties of the proverbial law-abiding majority? Nope.

  • Paul McKeown 12th Feb '11 - 12:04pm

    @Stuart Mitchell

    “I have no intention of committing any sort of crime for which my DNA could be used to detect and convict me”

    I rather think you are missing the point. You can still be falsely accused. If you were falsely accused and a jury acquitted you, would you be happy for the police to retain your DNA, perhaps for no reason apart from the polic being peeved at having been shown up?

  • I still think it is bizarre that while publishing this bill, the Lib Dems are supporting Gove’s education bill which introduces stronger stop and search powers for teachers than the police have ever had. The power for a teacher (or a sixth form / FE college lecturer) to search a child of the opposite sex, against their will and with no need for a witness to be present, just on the basis of ‘reasonable suspicion’ is a huge attack on the freedom of young people.

  • Stuart Mitchell 12th Feb '11 - 1:39pm

    Mark Pack: “Odd that you should comment as if the only people who think juries should be used in complex fraud trials are those who know nothing about how the legal system works. After all, given your own professed expertise on the matter, I guess you must be aware of the opposition to the original abolition that came from the likes of Guy Mansfield QC (and Chair of the Bar Council and deputy high court judge to boot)?”

    I’ve always suspected that fondness for juries is based more on sentimental attachment to tradition rather than a rational analysis of whether juries are the best way of reaching the correct decision in most cases. I looked up Guy Manfield’s comments and was not surprised to find that he is preoccupied with the idea of “ancient rights”.

    In most areas of human society, we believe in at least the *idea* of progress – that we can be more enlightened and do things better than past generations. When it comes to criminal justice, however, most peple cling to the notion that the best ideas were all had 800 years ago, and anybody who suggests changing things is likely to be subjected to some sort of Tony Hancock-style rant about the Magna Carta. This is unfortunate, as there are some very obvious flaws with the jury system.

    There’s a very good article by Richard Dawkins on the subject of juries vs judges, which is available on-line :-

    http://www.wanderings.net/notebook/Main/TrialByJuryGuilty#

    Whether one agrees with his conclusions or not, I think any open-minded person should at least entertain the possibility that there *might* be something better than juries, and Dawkins suggests an interesting experiment which might be a good way of finding out.

  • Stuart Mitchell 12th Feb '11 - 2:08pm

    Paul McKeown: “would you be happy for the police to retain your DNA”

    Yes.

    In fact if somebody wants to sequence my entire genome and publish it on the web, I’ll gladly send them a sample tomorrow. I’d actually regard it as an honour. Why should I not?

    Seriously, I’m open to be convinced on this. If you know of ay reason why I should regard the retention of a tiny proportion of my DNA on a police database to be detrimental to me, then tell me what it is. I’ve read web sites like Gene Watch and Reclaim my DNA and it’s very noticeable that they are unable to articulate a single good reason why anybody should be bothered about this (they can only talk in vague terms about “potential future misuse”). Perhaps you can do better?

  • Poppie's mum 12th Feb '11 - 2:54pm

    Clegg says – Freedom is back in fashion – 2011 will be the year that the coalition government hands people their liberty back.

    Will he be handing them their ‘liberty’ along with their P45s, Housing Benefit increases, lost mobility allowance, lost tax credits, increased VAT, wrecked NHS, diminished public services, and having to wait longer for their state pension ?

    How many people does he think lie awake at night thinking ‘I would be truly free if I could be called as a juror on a long and complex fraud trial’ ?

  • @Mark Pack

    I have read your response Mark and I honestly can’t make head nor tale of them so please simplify. I’m also confused at your comment about my own self-confessed expertise – is that some kind of a dig or what?

    @Catherine

    On the question of marriage and Liberty I was actually thinking more of forced marriages. But on the liberalisation of the hours in which marriage can take place I can only guess that the original hours were probably the opening hours of Registry Offices when the legislation was originally enacted although my personal experience in recent times is that few marriages ever take place after 4pm. I wonder with all the Coalition cut-backs whether there will be any money to pay for Registrar attendance OT for after 6pm weddings.

  • Paul McKeown 12th Feb '11 - 5:20pm

    @Stuart Mitchell

    Government databases are often maintained sufficiently in an insufficiently secure manner. The fact that your name was present on that database could easily be leaked in many ways. Knowing human nature, many cognizant of that fact will simply assume the worst of you. There are many other reasons, but that will do to start with.

  • What the hell happened to the “restoration of the rights to non-violent protest, even where this offends”? I voted for the Liberal Democrats on the basis of this manifesto commitment – yet the criminalisation of “insulting words” in a public place, by virtue of Sections 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, is still in place. This is despite multiple calls for reform from such organisations as Liberty, Civitas, Justice, Care, Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat Party conference, The Liberal Democrat Party manifesto and even the Human Rights Select Committee – all of whom recognised its ability to stifle legitimate protest. I had looked forward to this bill so much (I searched for news on it every day for months) – but it’s lack of protection for free speech, perhaps the most basic of all civic freedoms, is frankly inexcusable.

  • @Mark Pack

    Ah right got you – don’t you think that there might be a very large financial incentive for the legal profession to keep jury trials because they tend to last, in my experience, a helluva lot longer than non jury trials so there’s more dosh to be made not that that would ever affect a lawyer or QCs professionalism of course.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever sat through a long complex fraud trial Mark which goes on for months but if you ever do then I think you might then have some appreciation of the amount of brain damage it causes to anyone exposed to it – I kid you not.

    The jury system is trial by a jury of your peers and in a lot of the cases I am talking about then it isn’t a peer group that’s on the jury. The complexity of the forensic accountancy that is involved is mind numbing and would take someone trained professionally to keep track and fully understand the evidence.

    And as I said what right do we have to disrupt people’s lives for the months and months and months that some of these trials take.

    Btw lest there be any misunderstanding I am not painting supporters as ‘being ignorant and mad’ and indeed never used those words – these are your words Mark.

    What I said was: ‘This LibDem party is living on Cloud 9 and accelerating away from Earth at warp speed’ and if you think that makes them ignorant and mad then I bow to your judgement.

    I am questioning the morivation of people who want to so heavily load the dice in favour of acquittal – I certainly know that if I had carried out a major and complex fraud that I would want a jury trial rather than go before a judge because the jury system allows so much repetition and red herrings to be used it isn’t real. I don’t really believe I have seen a jury go beyond 3-4 weeks in these cases before their eyes glaze over and they switch off through information overload.

    I’m not attacking people when I say they aren’t going to understand these cases – I can’t and many colleagues also can’t get our heads round them.

    I also note that you have not explained your possible jibe about my own ‘professed expertise on the matter’ as I think eveything I have said points to the fact that I don’t believe I have the expertise to sit on such a jury. It seems to me I have obviously got up your nose in some way and you have not reacted with your usual balance.

  • Stuart Mitchell 13th Feb '11 - 10:18am

    Paul McKeown :-

    “Government databases are often maintained sufficiently in an insufficiently secure manner.”

    Rrrright.

    “The fact that your name was present on that database could easily be leaked in many ways. Knowing human nature, many cognizant of that fact will simply assume the worst of you. There are many other reasons, but that will do to start with.”

    Not sure I get your drift there. It’s a widely known fact that millions of innocent people have their profile on the database. Many thousands of people have willingly volunteered to be profiled – I’d do it myself if I could be bothered. One could also nullify your objection by having a truly national database with everybody on it, or even just increasing the number of volunteers. (As an aside, I’ve just read a document from the NDNAD Stragegy Board which states that there are “very few hits against volunteer samples” – make of that what you will.)

    Your point woud also apply equally to any record the police may have of my involvement in any sort of police investigation – should the police shred the lot of it?

    So I’m still searching for the elusive reason why I should be remotely troubled at the thought of my profile existing on the database. Any more suggestions?

  • @Mark Pack

    I really am at a loss to understand what tack you are on.

    I think I have put forward a reasonable case as to why some in the legal profession might wish to have jury trials and that is a financial motive pure and simple.

    I also think that it generally suits guilty defendants to go for a jury trial as there is more chance of acquittal in this type of case.

    I personally have never come across anyone in the prosecution side who supports trial by jury in these very complex lengthy cases as they know the result is a total lottery with little regard to the actual evidence. Whether they will say that publicly is another question as they do ultimately have political masters.

    They are very few of these cases quite simply because they are so complex it is virtually impossible to get them to trial in the first place which gives an indicator of how byzantine the evidence can be let alone the actual fraudulent scheme.

    When I talk about people having to sit through such a trial I wasn’t actually talking about those who are paid to be present as an integral part of the court process – I was talking about the jury and, to a much lesse extent, the press who have to cover these cases. At least the press can dip in and out and have a break – the jurors have no such freedom and their life is totally disrupted.

    You have singularly failed to comment on the rights of a juror not to be kettled in a court for months on end. I really do believe they have human rights in this situation and I, if ever selected for such a jury, would be happy to test this legally. It’s a bit like this Tory Coalition scrapping school building without any consultation and rightly the Courts have decided this is a very illiberal policy.

    I also don’t think you have offered an adequate explanation of your jibe at my ‘ professed expertise’ considering that I have professed no such thing and readily admit I have no expertise although I do have some experience of this type of trial.

    I also note that you make no comment about a ‘peer’ jury. I can only assume that you have never seen the lengths that many professionals and middle class jurors go to to avoid jury service. In any case the defence wouldn’t want to have professional people on this type of jury and most certainly NOT any accountants. It suits them to try and dumb-down the jury.

    As I said at the start I made a fairly simple statement that you appear to be having deep problems with but I keep getting the feeling that you are not actually articulating what is really bothering you – if you find yourself able to do so perhaps we might be able to, if not agree, then at least understand each other’s position from an open viewpoint.

  • Paul McKeown 13th Feb '11 - 12:35pm

    @Stuart Mitchell

    “Not sure I get your drift there.”

    Well, I guess you have never read the tabloids and noted how they are happy to make unwarranted assumptions. It is guaranteed that if a tabloid were to get hold of the database, they would simply assume that everyone on that database had something to hide. You obviously don’t have any sort of idea at all of how entirely innocent people can be hounded by stupid members of the public and equally stupid politicians on the flimsiest of grounds. And you obviously have a blinding faith in the integrity and intelligence of every person employed as a police officer not to make the unwarranted assumption that there is no smoke without fire.

  • @Mark Pack

    Dearie me Mark I really seem to have got under your skin on this one.

    Mark have you ever sat through a long and complex fraud trial – if so please advise in what capacity and the duration of the trial and perhaps I might be able to more fully judge your position on this one.

    What I find strange about your position is that you seem unable to differentiate between the free-will of people who can choose whether to sit through a complex trial and the ‘captured’ jury who don’t have the freedom to walk away.

    It strikes me as even more strange that you have no wish to deal with the principle of the jurors’ rights but would rather become tied-up with semantics. The various lawyers and judges you mention are being paid to be there and can walk away if they so wish with no penalty except a financial one.

    But of course any ordinary reading of what I said would have excluded the judge – unlike your’s – because in a non-jury trial the judge is still there regardless. I usually hate nit-picking on this level but it’s best we understand each other fully don’t you think 🙂

    I don’t know if you have actually read the section of the act to be repealed so I will undernote the salient feature which was a defence of the civil liberties of jurors which you and your party now think is a good thing to remove. I would be more impressed if you had adressed that salient issue rather than try to ridicule what I believe to be a principled position. I also note your silence on my contention that it’s hardly surprising that some members of the legal fraternity are in favour of jury trials as it earns them much more money.

    Section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows certain serious and complex fraud trials to go ahead without a jury if a Crown Court judge decides that the ‘test ‘ in undernoted Clause 5 is met. That decision is subject to the subsequent approval of the Lord Chief Justice

    5)The condition is that the complexity of the trial or the length of the trial (or both) is likely to make the trial so burdensome to the members of a jury hearing the trial that the interests of justice require that serious consideration should be given to the question of whether the trial should be conducted without a jury.

  • @Mark Pack

    Oh I should have added that I made the mistake of assuming that you had read and understood the import of the Section of the Act you support repealing. That’s why I was initially confused with your comments and asked you to simplify them.

    I have now re-read everything and have come to the conclusion that you don’t appear to have realised that the section concerned only applied to the rights of jurors. So when I later state that I am basically talking about jurors you jump on that and claim it is an ‘important caveat’.

    It’s nothing of the sort and if anyone had read the section 43 then I’m sure they would understand that my remarks were directed towards jurors.

    I would also say that I have never stated that I knew what ‘every’ juror thought and I really find nothing in my words that could be termed inaccurate as you have claimed.

    I have used plain English and I think it is perfectly clear that my concern has been the removal of rights from jurors. I don’t need to interview every juror to identify the removal of a right just like I don’t need to interview every student to know that the breaking of the personal tuition fee pledges was disgraceful and wrong.

    So Mark do you accept that repeal of Section 43 constitutes the removal of a right for jurors not to have to sit through a complex/serious fraud trial which could prove burdensome to them. It may be of course that you don’t believe that they should have had that right in the first place.

    So Mark what actually is your position on that issue without obfuscating the whole matter with semantics possibly even accidentally.

  • @Mark Pack

    Mark you fail to address the simple question – Do you believe it is correct to remove existing legal rights from jurors by repealing section 43. Yes or No will suffice.

    If you can’t or won’t answer that then I’m sure people will form their own opinion just as they will decide whether my use of ‘only’ was right or wrong in the circumstances. Personally I see no problem with my use given the context of Section 43.

    Again I look through these exchanges and look at the simple questions I have asked you and you have failed to answer a single one as far as I can see. So if you think debating my use of one word amid – feels like thousands now – is of more importance than the principle at stake well I suppose that’s why you’re in the LibDems and I’m in the LP.

    It might assist you to look at: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article1294769.ece – it’s not ideal as the Jubilee Line case iasn’t one that falls into the Section 43 remit as not being that complex as I understand it. But interesting none the less as long as you read it all and understand it and don’t cherry-pick to suit a personal agenda.

    Of course, as I’m sure you are aware, it’s not allowed to go questioning juries on how they reached a verdict and the only way it could be done in this case was because the trial collapsed after 21 months and £60 million in public costs so there was no actual verdict. This makes it quite difficult to know how a jury or individual jurors have reached a verdict.

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