Robert Verkaik: How civil liberties have suffered since 2001

Click to follow

Labour's inexorable assault on the civil liberties once freely enjoyed by British citizens makes uncomfortable reading for a nation that prides itself on exporting democracy and justice all over the world.

Many of the restrictions were rushed through under the cloak of the "war on terror" while others have been rolled out to allay the fears of those who believe the country is under siege from antisocial behaviour.

But the most controversial have been the Government's attempt to restrict legitimate debate by curbing peaceful demonstration.

The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 was introduced in 2006 to silence the five-year peace protest of Brian Haw outside the Houses of Parliament by prohibiting unlicensed demonstrations within 1km of the buildings of the legislature. It meant protesters who might previously have received a warning, could be arrested.

Those laws quickly had their impact, leading to the arrest of Maya Evans and Milan Rai at the Cenotaph for reading out the names of UK soldiers and civilians killed in the war in Iraq.According to the human rights group Liberty, the Act also widens the scope of Asbos by allowing unaccountable groups to seek them against individuals, and creates a new criminal offence of trespass on a "designated site" on grounds of national security.

Specific provisions were also brought in against animal rights protesters. The crime of "economic sabotage" not only extended the criminalisation of violent and unlawful protesters but was so broadly drafted as to make criminals of many peaceful protesters. Free speech has been one of the most obvious victims, with offences of "encouragement" and "glorification" of terrorism making careless talk a crime.

Meanwhile, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 has extended the offence of incitement to racial hatred to cover religion, threatening to seriously undermine legitimate debate.

But perhaps Labour's most spectacular own goal was the rough ejection of Walter Wolfgang, 83, from the Labour conference in 2005 for accusing Jack Straw of talking "nonsense".

Comments