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« More unintended consequences | Main | Peer Review - not for the short sighted. Josh 87 »

A civil liberties post

Many current readers of this blog may be unaware that one of its major focuses used to be civil liberties, so I hope I will be excused a temporary reversion to this subject. The quote below is an extract from a Hansard debate last week.

Mr Bacon: What my hon. Friend has just said is really quite extraordinary. As I understand him, he is saying that a court in this country... prohibited someone from talking to a Member of Parliament and from referring to the existence of the proceedings. When one thinks of secret courts, one thinks of unsavoury regimes such as those in Burma, Cuba, Hungary in the 1950s or Stalin's Russia, but one does not think of the United Kingdom. How can a judge feel it appropriate to make an order making it unlawful-supposedly-to refer to the existence of proceedings?

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Reader Comments (31)

That is really shocking -I have sent the following letter to my MP, I'll let you know what he says, if he says anything.

"You will no doubt be aware of the discussion in Parliament on Thursday, during which John Hemmings MP drew the attention of the House to an injunction put in place by a judge which prevented a constituent from speaking to his MP about a legal case in which the constituent was involved.

I am extremely concerned that such a shocking restriction on civil liberties has been allowed to take place in the UK. Could you please tell me if the Coalition intends to do anything about it and is there any intention to discover if there have been any other cases similar to this."

Mar 20, 2011 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

The standard platitudinal letter for Mr Messenger Ms Onyerback. Oh, and please submit my expenses to the fee office

Mar 20, 2011 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

I remember those days when you discussed civil liberties. I'm happy for you to continue with these posts (not that you need anyone's permission). Civil liberties in this country have gone pc or have been taken over by the EUSSR without our permission.

Mar 20, 2011 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Christopher Booker has a lot of material on it, going back ages.

Mar 20, 2011 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterLaogai

Well, I think that our civil liberties will become even more curtailed should more 'climate change' legislation be passed, or EU Directives be enforced here.

So neither this current post nor others are out of place.

May I say,in closing, that I find what the MP brought to parliament utterly repugnant.
How dare they!
It's time we got to elect our judges, as they do in the USA.

Mar 20, 2011 at 2:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterViv Evans

"Christopher Booker has a lot of material on it, going back ages."
... and a particularly nasty piece this week.
Some of the reports either need to be taken with a pinch of salt (as one of his regular commenters points out, some parents can be very manipulative of the social services) or are so startling that one wonders just how they can possibly be true.
The rules regarding family courts are draconian to say the least and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that in some cases social workers use this to their advantage but there is also increasing evidence (also anecdotal by the very nature of the situation) of collusion between social workers, judges and lawyers.
Booker has tried to interest the relevant minister who is apparently not interested. The usual "oh there may be one or two cases but by and large everything is fine" attitude.

Mar 20, 2011 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

This has been going on for years now, and yes I am sure that some cases have been manipulative and exaggerated -

BUT some of the cases that Booker has described over the recent years are so bad that even a terrorist bomber with Semtex on his hands would get better justice than many get from the family courts. Children have been given to adoption, even when some in the process realised that a mistake had been made. There is no recourse to justice, no appeal. If you try to get help from anywhere they just make it worse for you. As a parent I can only begin to feel how that must be for a loving parent.

I was so shocked by one report a few months ago that I wrote to my MP and to the PM (Mr Cameron by then). The replies I received only acknowledged my concern and their support for family life.

I told the PM in my letter that, even though the state of the economy must be his biggest concern, this assault on our families was MORE important.

There is something very wrong in this legislation that can allow this and it should be repealed.

Mar 20, 2011 at 4:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterRetired Dave

It's not just the legal system, the whole system is corrupt in favour of the establishment.

example of family court corruption (and there's many more)

The British Constitution Group is calling for Lawful Rebellion, as is our right under article 61 Magna Carta 1215. (I think there's some ex UKIP chaps involved)

This video shows them trying to arrest a judge in court because he refused to produce his oath. As I understand it he was effectively impersonating a judge without his oath. Hence a citizens tried to make a citizens arrest. All good stuff :)

Mar 20, 2011 at 4:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

Frosty, be careful of the Hollie Greig case. If you take it at face value then she was the victim of a massive paedophile conspiracy by half the Aberdeen establishment from police right up through the senior ranks of the legal system.
I asked a couple of questions when I was still freelancing in Scotland (I had some good contacts in the police and (other) local authorities) and got enough feedback to suggest that while there might be some truth in parts of the allegation the conspiracy theorists had got their teeth into it and others with another agenda had jumped on the bandwagon.
It could all be true of course but nobody has so far managed to crack it and unless you believe that there are no whistle blowers in Grampian Police or the local Sheriffdom it seems a little far-fetched as reported.

Mar 20, 2011 at 5:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

Viv Evans,
The election of judges here in the US varies with the ah. er. jurisdiction. Some states have it and in others they are appointed. I suspect that one would be hard pressed to distinguish the product of one method from the other in practice.

What happens is the voter is confronted with a list of judges. Sometimes the opportunity is to vote that they be retained. If one doesn't get sufficient votes for being retained, a new one is appointed.

In other cases, they run for office like any other politician.

As a voter, it is very difficult to know whether they are any good. One cannot count on the media for reliable reporting of the activities, or lack thereof, on the bench.

I suspect that voting blind, which is pretty much what it is, is no more likely to produce good results than political appointment. At least if there's political appointment and an incumbent runs amok, a politician may be embarrassed assuming such a thing is possible.

On the Raccoon piece:

I suspect that muzzling by blackmail happens here in the US and family courts here would be a good place to start looking for it.

I read half way through the transcript indirectly referenced above and think you should be somewhat reassured over there that some of you are so well represented - those are thoughtful and responsible people.

Mar 20, 2011 at 5:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

Certainly with respect to Booker, I think caution is advised. One case he spoke up about involved the taking into care of some children who were being brought up in a house that was full of festering dog poo (Booker didn't mention this), and the parents attempts to get the children back. When I hear cases like this, I would agree that the state should intervene if the parents in question are clearly incapable of "getting it" when it comes to childcare. There are some unbelievably stupid parents out there, who's lack of consideration or regard for their offspring does in no way inhibit their ability to produce them.

However, I do not understand why cases like this need to be kept secret at all and I do not understand how or under what law the courts can inhibit freedom of speech in Parliament, or between an MP and a constituent. If this law is relatively recent, we should be told how it came to be voted through and by whom.

Mar 20, 2011 at 6:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

Cannot the law that permitted this in the first place be repealed? I'm sure it's not as simple as that, but how did such a device (a hyper injunction) get on the statute book in the first place?

Mar 20, 2011 at 6:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Courts are making law on the hoof on the back of Human Rights legislation.
There are privacy laws in the rest of Europe and our judges are bringing them in by the back door.
Up to a point they have a point (!) but I don't think that it was ever intended to whitewash the reputation of one of our high-profile footballers who can't keep his dick in his trousers or to prevent us even from being able to describe a well-known banker as a banker ... at least I think that was the word.

Mar 20, 2011 at 7:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

Don't try and judge what's justified and what's not. Who's telling the truth and who's not. All the information isn't there.

Justice is meant to be transparent.

Don't let the case for transparency be dependent on how believable or otherwise you find the information about the alleged victims.

Mar 20, 2011 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered Commentercaroline

The point being that the right of an individual - even a criminal - to speak about his experiences should not ever be impinged, according to the Bill Of Rights. A court can't circumvent this, and a court that uses the threat of repercussion to dissuade an individual (even an egregious one) is surely not acting within the law. The situation is unacceptable and needs to be properly addressed.

I'm grateful to The Good Bishop for drawing attention to the matter. I've posted on Facebook but so far none of my friends have noticed (when they do, they'll no doubt be on board and spread the word). I'll watch out for developments and tie them together with further posts. This kind of thing is important.

Mar 20, 2011 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

caroline ..
This is part of the problem; we only hear one side of the story or, in the case of super-injunctions, none of the story.
Booker has been pursuing the "forced adoption" story for a while in the face of one commenter (who apparently works in child mental health) consistently putting the argument that he doesn't know all the facts.
He probably doesn't though it appears that the law in this area is such that if he were to give more detailed information about individual cases her (or his paper) would find themselves in contempt.
But even if only half of what he says is correct there is a serious problem with the family courts which needs to be investigated. And soon.

Mar 20, 2011 at 9:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

Sam - exactly. It seems to be ironic that someone can argue against the case for transparency by saying a journalist got the facts wrong.

Mar 20, 2011 at 9:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterCaroline

Well done Bishop for posting this. Such cases of this absolute abuse of our civil liberties are difficult to comprehend especially when involving our children but we simply cannot afford to let this go unchallenged - it is bringing unspeakable hardship to many,many families.

Mar 20, 2011 at 10:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterMarion

I'm wondering if this sort of issue arises when there is a suspected felony involving family life and the evidence is insufficient to prosecute but compelling enough to support some sort of administrative action.

The dialog would be something like "Your daughter says you did it, sir, but the local prosecutors won't pursue it if you agree to give her up to foster care and not to discuss this agreement with anyone."

And that could be effective based on truth or otherwise.

Mar 20, 2011 at 10:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson


20 March: Guardian: Ben Dowell: BBC World Service to sign funding deal with US state department
Low six-figure investment will aim to help combat censorship of TV and internet services in countries including Iran and China
The funding is also expected to be used to educate people in countries with state censorship in how to circumnavigate the blocking of internet and TV services...
The US government money comes as the World Service faces a 16% cut in its annual grant from the Foreign Office – a £46m reduction in its £236.7m budget over three years that will lead to about 650 job cuts. The money will be channelled through the World Service's charitable arm, the World Service Trust...
"Governments who have an interest in denying people information particularly at times of tension and upheaval are keen to do this and it is a particular problem now," said Egan (BBC controller of strategy and business, Jim Egan)....

who will fund BBC to prevent its censorship of CAGW sceptics?

Mar 21, 2011 at 12:05 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

Yes, it is a pity the old political issues have been superceded. But the Bishop, I expect, has a life to live and we cannot demand too much.

The problem aired here is an instance of something far bigger. I always thought that the judiciary's job was to implement parliament's laws, and maybe to apply patches where there were holes. Silly me!

How, for instance, can a judge find against a householder who inflicts GBH on an intruder that the householder reasonably fears will use violence. Is such a finding in accordance with Parliament's intentions? And hosts of other instances as well, I think.

In the end, I expect the answer lies with Parliament. But our politicians are now a pretty poor lot now that we pay them and what with expenses scandals and the like. They now have their careers and the public interest takes second place. We should go back to voluntary unpaid MPs, in it for their convictions. The left would not suffer much, if at all: convictions come easily to such people as Viscount Stansgate and there are plenty more where he came from.

Oh! what a mess we have got ourselves in!

Mar 21, 2011 at 3:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

If you want more loss of civil liberties, here's my prediction. I'm not sure how soon, but it is inevitable.

It will become an offense to even view material that has been 'injuncted' by the court. Say someone manages to put the material up on a foreign website, your act of viewing it will be deemed criminal in the same way that viewing child pornography or any 'terrorist' material is.

The techniques for tracking you down are already in place and it's probably just a minor amendment to the criminal justice act (or whatever it is in the UK) to enable it.

There are more losses of liberty either in place or about to be in the UK. The right to avoid self-incrimination has been lost in a number of specifc instances in Australia. Included is failing to give up your password to any encrypted material. If you claim you have forgotten it you are presumed to be guilty and must prove your innocence by showing you don't know the password.

Mar 21, 2011 at 5:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterJerry

Sam agreed it's far fetched, specially if you get as far as the Dunblain connection, but there are many worrying aspects even if the bigger picture is exaggerated.

The "conspiracy theory" label was appended very early on, as was the establishment closing ranks, which conveniently allows the public to write it off without looking. The way the establishment closed ranks is really what took my interest in the first place, I only follow it as a curiosity.

My curiosity regarding the "establishment" was first tweaked when I read the story of Glenn Jenkins of Exodus in Bedford. I was researching 'alternative communities' when I came upon the story, a fascinating insight into how the establishment worked in the 80's completely disregarding civil liberties. Every single police officer involved was aware what happened IMO, and there were NO whistle blowers in Bedfordshire police. Laws were enacted because of illegal activities carried out by police and the establishment.

Course this is pretty low level stuff compared to recent global shenanigans, and they'll get away with that lot too.

Everything, it seems, is a business model.

Mar 21, 2011 at 8:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

As I say, you may be right. I'm only saying that my reading of the case and what I have managed to glean (which admittedly is not much) has made me a bit suspicious. Add to that the fact that many of the references to this case on various blogs are illiterate rants which do the "cause" no good and I get even more worried that there is something else at work.
The Telegraph seems at last to have picked up on the hyper-injunction aspect of this.
It will be interesting to see whether they (or someone) is prepared to make a campaign of this and the gagging of parents in child care cases as well.

Mar 21, 2011 at 8:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

As Sam notes the Telegraph has picked up on this. Unsurprisingly the BBC hasn't and won't until either it becomes an issue too big to hide (eg the Brown "bigot" story during the general election) or the Guardian gives its mates at the BBC the go-ahead on how to spin it - against the coalition in particular rather than the political class in general.

Mar 21, 2011 at 11:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterUmbongo

There appears to be a marked silence on the issue from Liberty. This is odd for a civil liberties organisation.

Mar 21, 2011 at 12:14 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

As a Kiwi who came to the UK to spend the last few years of a successful teaching career gaining new experiences, I have been dismayed by the pervasive feelings of fear of the education and civil authorities among teachers here and the overwhelming impression of a corrupt and bullying 'Big Brother' state, including the police. My UK migrant reletives and friends in NZ joked about 'justice being available on the same basis as dinner at the Ritz', but that is the reality here and it is no joke. I did not value the open society NZ has as much as I should and believe me, I will cherish that when I return soon.

Mar 21, 2011 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

"This is odd for a civil liberties organisation". Yes, but not for this particular civil liberties organisation. Liberty is only interested in the civil liberties of the left. Liberty would never get itself involved in protecting the civil liberties of, for instance, the BNP (unlike the ACLU which famously defended the right of American Nazis to march through a Jewish suburb of Chicago ). Liberty has garnered a completely undeserved reputation as the disinterested guardian of civil liberties in the UK. The BBC advances this process by having Shami's ever-available rent-a-gob on as many editions of Question Time, Any Questions, Newsnight or Today as possible.

Mar 21, 2011 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterUmbongo

My detailed reading of English history, Macaulay to circa 1700 and now Hume where I'm bogged down with Stephen just now, hasn't revealed whether you have something like our supreme court in your judiciary system. Do you? If so, how does it work.

I take from what I read here that some professions are much oppressed by their bureaucracies and seemingly without recourse.

Regulatory agencies in the US are often enabled to require that you exhaust their internal review and appeal processes before being able to seek review by the judicial system. This serves to dissuade appeals of iniquitous rulings or interpretations failing deep pockets.

I'm given to believe, though that the courts may vacate that hurdle if they respect the issue raised.

I was once a witness to the very pleasant sight of a senior EPA administrator being "enlightened" by a US senator by telephone and instantly reversing a particularly burdensome review and disapproval of a permit application for a project which was well within their requirements but of an unprecedented design.

Surely your MPs can do similarly?

Mar 21, 2011 at 4:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

The more judges and the left-wing (or even "centrist") media talk about "human rights" the less freedom we have. What use are human rights laws if we live in a society in which many MPs are afraid to do their job and judges think that they can change laws on a whim? In one recent case a judge claimed that society has "moved on" so the the word "violence" in one law doesn't just mean physical violence but could also mean "shouting."

It seems the main purpose of "human rights" laws is not to achieve justice but to enrich human-rights-racketeering-lawyers.

The legal profession should be utterly ashamed of itself.

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