Shami Chakrabarti: The rapid decline of Britain's liberal values

From a speech by the director of Liberty to the London School of Economics
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The Independent Online

Since the "war against terror" and, in truth, at least 10 years before, there has been in our country a decline in many of the liberal values that should unite those who love the rule of law, alongside more radical disciples of civil liberties and indeed fundamental human rights.

Even the most cursory examination of relevant speeches and writing by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary reveals an impatience with civil libertarians, lawyers and judges. Traditional ideas of liberty and legal process are described as anachronistic, élitist and based upon vested interest.

Until 2001 anti-terror law in this country did at least bear some semblance of criminal law. This all changed with the advent of Part 4 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 that followed the horrific events of 11 September.

So what is so wrong with the Blair-Blunkett vision of how to deliver freedom from fear? It may be positively counter-productive. To continually compromise notions of fair treatment is not merely to offend lawyers' delicate sensibilities. Fairness runs deeper into our basic humanity than that. There is nothing like a sense of injustice to turn people away from a stake in a community and indeed democracy itself. This was the lesson of internment in Northern Ireland. Democracy is more than mere majority rule. The rule of law and respect for inalienable human rights distinguish democracy from the rule of the mob. This was recognised by a previous generation that knew much of the horrors of war. It should not be forgotten now.

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