Recent commentary on the House Arrest proposals

The Adam Smith Institute Blog says:

Sure, a liberal order must protect itself from those who would destroy liberalism itself. And maybe, at times, you have to act illiberally to do that. But you should still act according to the rule of law. If there is evidence, it should be produced in court. If the evidence is too sensitive to be made public, then it should be heard in private before qualified judges. At the moment we are jailing people, and soon we will be imprisoning them in their homes, on the say-so of a politician. That is scary.

I quite agree.

Tim Worstall, whose blog I recently added to my side bar, writes in an article entitled “Stalinism Returns”:

The cornerstone of whatever freedoms we have managed to accumulate over the past millenium or so is the right to a trial by jury, with the associated presumption of innocence and Habeus Corpus. Everything else, and I do mean everything, that we enjoy, prosperity, freedoms of speech, association, property, are all reliant on this one base, and now they want to take that away from us.

This is an important point. The right to defend oneself against an accusation does form the basis upon which individual freedom lies. Without it, your freedom can be snuffed out at the whim of a politician.

Over at the Samizdata blog, they had this to say:

The Daily Telegraph appears to blame the Human Rights Act, noting that this decision is ostensibly being taken because the Law Lords said that it was illegal to empower the Home Secretary only to detain foreigners arbitrarily. This view is advanced notwithstanding Lord Hoffman’s ditcta that applying such a equally rule to British citizens is no more defensible. But it is an absurd idea that such unlimited arbitrary power of arrest and detention is something the government reluctantly finds has been thrust upon it.

I agree that the claim the Human Rights Act is to blame is flawed — the new measures are just as much a breach of human rights as the old — and that the image of a government reluctantly forced to consider these measures is absurd. The government has been attacking civil liberties, in all sorts of legislation — not just anti-terrorism legislation — for years, and started this well before 9/11. They haven’t tried obvious measures that might allow more prosecutions of suspected terrorists such as using intercept evidence in court (as almost every other developed country, including Israel with its long experience of terrorism does). It seems to me that, far too often, an attack on civil liberties is this government’s first resort when faced with a problem. This is a government addicted to executive power.

The excellent spy.org.uk blog comments:

The plan seems to be to allow a “whole range” of measures under a regime of Control Orders which could include house arrest, electronic tagging, denial of telephony or internet access, denial of association with some as yet unspecified people etc., all without actully having to present any evidence to a court. The whole point of having to go through a legal court procedure is precisely so that politicians and faceless petty officials cannot impose ever changing Kafakaesque rules and regulations which cannot be challenged by the defendant.

The 60th Anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp brings to mind the quotation from Pastor Martin Niemoller, who was locked up in the Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camps:

“First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

How can this Labour Government introduce such a fundamental attack on the the principle of Habeas Corpus ? The end does not justify the means.

Finally some further comments of my own. There has been a steady, systematic attack on civil liberties going on in Britain now for many years, which started well before 9/11 and which has involved attacks across many areas of policy, not just crime or anti-terrorist policy. These proposals are the latest and most extreme yet.

It seems to me that each time a proposal to weaken civil liberties makes it into law without the government facing punishment from the electorate and without there being any other effective opposition or backlash, it provides encouragement for further attacks. Each new attack that passes by without an outcry/backlash from the population proves that the government can probably go yet further still and get away with it.

There is also another aspect of this that worries me. Each time civil liberties are successfully weakened and each time the executive acquires an arbitrary/draconian power over individuals, those who might abuse such powers are encouraged to press for more and given more opportunities to take power themselves.

It does not matter that the intent of the politicians may be benign, the above points will hold. This process is making Britain vulnerable to tyranny.

And here is my final point: If the government gets away with enacting these proposals without a serious backlash, it will demonstrate that even more draconian measures could be enacted before a backlash occurs.

Given how draconian these proposals are, that scares the hell out of me.

And remember there’s already an enabling act ticking away on Britain’s statute books!

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