Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Universities warn over terror Bill | the Daily Mail

It may not be the worst thing about this Government, but its sloppy approach to legal drafting is a telling disgrace. I don't know how the Government Law Officers and the lawyers in the office of the Parliamentary Draftsman can live with themselves. Again and again, they have permitted the sloppy language of the saloon bar and the political pamphlet to find its way into law.

To criminalise the ownership or production of "suspicious" materials begs the questions of "suspicious to whom?" or "giving rise to suspicions of what?"

I can almost hear Blair or Clarke saying - some months from now - that terrorists have applied for jobs in University libraries or chemistry labs to give themselves a respectable "cover" to store and disseminate suspicious literature or to produce suspicious chemicals.

Simply saying that fears of impinging on academic (or any other freedom) are not "justified" is not an answer. It doesn't matter what Parliament intended in drafting a law (unless the law is ambiguous). Generally it matters what the law actually says. The police and Crown Prosecution will use it as it is drafted and the courts must interpret it likewise. It will not be a defence to say "...but Parliament didn't intend this..."

If there is no evidence to charge a man, don't arrest him. He is innocent until proven guilty, right? So get the proof. Observe him, follow him, tap his phones (under judicial supervision) or whatever. Don't just arrest him because you don't like the look of him and then fish around for some justification for what you have done. Nor, in a free country, should you arrest him for thinking bad thoughts or even expressing them. He should only be arrested when he can be charged with actions or - at the very least - with criminal conspiracy to act.

We are drifting rapidly into a police state. The idiots who think that every danger requires a ritual sacrifice of liberty are ignoring the biggest danger of all. The last century was characterised, not by terrorist atrocities, but by the enslavement of individuals by over-mighty states. That is still by far a greater danger.

Universities warn over terror Bill | the Daily Mail

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is not just academic libraries which are at risk from this sloppy wording, how about the entire chemical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology etc. industries which, by law, have to provide their employees with training material under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations ?

How are the correct safe handling procedures for noxious chemicals or biological pathogens, and the safe/unsafe limits on these, somehow not of direct or indirect use to would be terrorists, somewhere in the world, sometime in the future ?

The Bill still includes the awful "catch all" clause "5 Preparation of terrorists" acts, with a possible life sentence for the preparation of even for minor acts of terrorism, which may themselves only be subject to say a 7 or 10 year prison sentence e.g. a bomb hoax with no actual explosion. The Opposition has managed to let this clause slip through "on the nod".