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The Independent (London)

April 15, 2006 Saturday

If you still think you live in a liberal and democratic society then please read on

Simon Carr

The Government is said to be giving up on that remarkable new law known as Leg and Reg. They had been, until very recently, fighting like cats for it. Disguised as a device to allow burdensome regulations to be easily abolished, the Bill had hidden in it a few clauses that allowed ministers to change any law they liked without going through onerous procedures. The burden ministers needed relief from was Parliament.

The fact that this can only be scored a draw should encourage us to remember the many other losses suffered by civil society in the past eight years. These measures and effects listed below are justified by the war-without-end against terrorism, criminals, immigrants, drug dealers and over-weight women opening their front door in their unappealing underwear. But it's a list that dramatises to any disinterested observer how Britain has changed in the past eight years.

1) As from the beginning of this year, all offences are arrestable.

2) There are three million DNA samples held on file (rising to four million in two years).

3) People can protest in Parliament Square only with the written permission of the police. Where "reasonably practical" six days' notice must be given.

4) Damaging GM crop fields is defined as a terrorist act.

5) In 2001 two peace campaigners were prosecuted for causing "harassment, alarm and distress" to US servicemen at their base in Britain by standing at the gate holding a placard reading "George W Bush? Oh Dear".

6) A minister can declare a state of emergency and suspend all legal proceedings, including Parliament.

7) The penalty for breaking an anti-social behaviour order can be five years in prison.

8) Anyone's internet history - the sites you've visited, who has e-mailed you and whom you have e-mailed - can be called up by public servants in a dozen departments, as well as all local councils.

9) A journalist's second e-mail requesting information from a council press officer was designated "harassment" and sent to the police.

10) The presumption of innocence is no longer a fixed legal principle.

11) People wearing satirical T-shirts in a "designated area" may be arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The City of London is a permanently "designated area".

12) Police may take, and retain indefinitely, DNA samples (by force, if necessary) from people who have been arrested but neither charged nor cautioned.

13) Profiles of 37 per cent of all black men are held by the police.

14) The existence of an interception warrant (to monitor internet activity) is a state secret, and the penalty for revealing its existence to the person concerned is five years' imprisonment.

15) It is a criminal offence to prevent an inspector from entering a nursery school for the purposes of inspection and punishable by up to two years in prison.

16) Of 3,069 Asbos issued to the end of March 2004, only 42 requests were turned down by the courts.

17) Foreigners detained under the 2001 Terrorism Act are able to appeal only to a new court (SIAC), which has no jury. The court isn't obliged to inform the detainee of the case against him, and any appeal against the court's judgment is heard by the same court that passed the judgment.

18) The Law Lords advised that the Act was illegal as foreigners were being sanctioned in a way that British citizens could not be. The Government responded by applying the sanctions to British citizens as well.

19) Trial by jury is abolished for certain fraud cases.

20) A judge may direct a jury to infer guilt if a prisoner claims his right to silence.

21) Hearsay is now permitted in court.

22) "Double jeopardy" has been abolished.

23) "Bad character" can now be produced as evidence of guilt.

24) Britons can be extradited to America without any evidence of wrongdoing being presented.

25) "Control orders are not designed to punish people for having done something wrong, but to prevent people from doing something wrong." Hazel Blears.

26) "Where the court of first instance or appeal court quashes a control order... this does not prevent the Secretary of State exercising his power to make a new control order - even if it is to the very same effect, and it is based on the same evidence, as the original order."

27) Under the Inquiries Act 2005, the powers of independent chairmen to control inquiries has been removed and given to government ministers.

28) The state can sue for the proceeds of crime under civil law (where the standard of proof is "balance of probability" rather than "beyond reasonable doubt").

29) Under the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 it is an offence to recommend the violent overthrow of national dictators such as Saddam Hussein.

30) The Serious Organised Crime Agency can obtain a warrant for the forcible entry and search of anyone's premises, whether or not they are suspected of an offence.

31) A person hosting a British website auctioning Nazi memorabilia can be extradited to France to face charges of "inciting racism" - even though the site is legal in Britain.

32) The National Identity Register may be used to record every sort of personal information - such as withdrawing more than pounds 200 from the bank, getting prescription drugs, voting, applying for a mortgage, taking out an insurance policy, applying for a fishing licence.

33) Officials can demand access to any bank account or financial records (credit cards, utilities, mobile phone companies) without a warrant for the purpose of detecting benefit fraud.

34) Any cabinet minister may make "emergency regulations" if he believes that an emergency has occurred, is occurring or is about to occur.

Many of these items you could defend, if you were inclined that way, by referring to safety, security and efficient modern administration. This is particularly plausible when the people targeted are undesirables. However, the Government has a penchant for introducing an unattractive principle and then extending it to the rest of us (see item 18).

If anyone has any pungent examples to add to this list, please do so at the e-mail address below and we'll start a little website. simoncarr75 @ hotmail.com