Letter: Lawbreaking by police to be legalised

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Lawbreaking by police to be legalised

Sir: Patricia Wynn Davies commented on the bugging provisions of the Police Bill and reported that Liberty had obtained a legal opinion that those provisions violated the right to privacy contained in the European Convention on Human Rights ("State licence to bug and burgle", 3 December).

Jack Straw has argued that the police have been acting for many years as if they already had these powers. This illegality by the police has recently been exposed by two cases that Liberty has been involved with, one of which is pending with the European Commission of Human Rights.

Parliamentary acceptance of the use of listening devices in absence of any real controls will make the situation worse.However much we may admire chief officers of police for their integrity and independence, trusting the police to police themselves is not an adequate safeguard. The placing of listening devices by the police in the past did break the law: that is why they need this legislation. Who was it that authorised police officers to do this under the bad old scheme? Why, chief officers of police of course!

It has been argued that the new provisions allow for supervision by a judge. However, complaints will be rare because we will never be told we are being listened to. My client whose case is pending in Strasbourg only found out he was under surveillance when he moved his furniture to find the police had drilled a hole through the wall to insert the bug.

The Police Bill is of great constitutional significance. The Government and the Labour Party have failed to recognise this, presumably because they believe that being tough on crime requires them also to be tough on constitutional and human rights. Those innocent of any crime will be subject to its powers either because without independent controls the police will get sloppy or because the police, who have a history of gathering "intelligence" on those who have different lifestyles, political opinions or skin colours from the majority, need only ask their own boss for permission.

JOHN WADHAM

Director

Liberty

London SE1

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