Taking liberties

Boozy parties and the Government’s attacks on civil liberties. Newham Recorder opinion piece 2.2.22

A peaceful vigil for murder victim Sarah Everard was brutally broken up by the police last March. The pretext was breach of Covid rules. In stark contrast rule-breaking boozy parties were being held around the same time at Downing Street under close police protection. Fairness and human rights are two sides of the same coin. This Government’s disdain for both has set this country on a frightening trajectory. 

One prong of the Government’s attack on civil liberties is their bill to curb ‘judicial review.’ This will prevent ordinary people from questioning their decisions through the courts. The organisers of the vigil are using judicial review to retrospectively challenge the banning decision. The Government proposals are described by former Tory cabinet member David Davies as ‘un-Conservative and undemocratic.’ (Guardian 25.10.21) 

A second prong attacks the right to demonstrate. Justice Secretary Raab is pressing to pass measures in the Police Bill which would empower police to stop gatherings which are ‘seriously noisy or disruptive’, despite their recent defeat in the Lords.  I joined around 2 million people on one such event in 2001. The demo against the Iraq war brought central London to a halt. What chance getting police permission for it under Raab’s plans, given the police chose not to use their discretion under Covid rules to allow women to gather peacefully on a common to mourn a murder victim? 

A third prong is a power-grab on the Human Rights Act announced by Raab in December. This too threatens our hard-won rights.  

Progress championed by Humanists has been won through all three democratic tools. Protest, often noisy and disruptive, has helped achieve women’s and gay rights. Judicial review and the Human Rights Act have been used to advance fair treatment for the non-religious in relation to teaching in schools and providing pastoral care in hospitals.  

Democracy does not begin and end with putting a tick on a ballot paper every five years. The Governments proposals would fetter many of us striving for a fairer, kinder, safer world and must be strenuously opposed. 

Paul Kaufman
Chair East London Humanists

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