Liberty Timeline

Liberty was founded in 1934 as the National Council for Civil Liberties, and we have campaigned to protect and promote our fundamental rights and freedoms for 90 years.


Liberty is founded by Ronald Kidd as the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL), prompted by police brutality towards peaceful protesters during the Hunger Marches and the “general and alarming tendency to encroach on the liberty of the citizen.” Early members include Vera Brittain and E. M. Forster.

Ronald Kidd and Sylvia Scaffardi

An early NCCL priority was to tackle the rise of fascism in the UK. Despite British troops fighting for freedom and democracy abroad, at home fascism and anti-Semitism were on the increase.

The NCCL investigates the arrest and heavy sentencing of the leaders of the miners’ strike at Harworth Colliery, exposing bias against the strikers from members of the authorities.

The strike was called at Harworth Colliery following the owners’ decision to make membership of the company union a condition of employment, with those who refused locked out and replaced. Striking miners were harassed by the police, and the leaders were arrested and given disproportionately heavy sentences.

The NCCL led a public campaign to help the strike leaders, collecting 25,000 petition signatures. Here Ronald Kidd delivers the petition to the Home Office.

Ronald Kidd with Haworth Strike Petition in 1937.

The NCCL organises its first conference – on press censorship and the Official Secrets Act.

Press Freedom Mass Meeting


Founder Ronald Kidd dies aged 53. Elizabeth Acland Allen takes over as General Secretary.

A major conference on wartime press freedom attracts thousands of delegates.

The NCCL organises an International Conference on Human Rights, with representatives attending from 15 countries.

The NCCL takes up its first major mental health case, the ‘Jane’ case. ‘Jane’ had been wrongly detained in a senile ward of a mental health institution after giving birth to an illegitimate child and being refused shelter by her father.

Widespread race discrimination and an effective ‘colour bar’ is exposed when NCCL defends 14 black men charged with affray in the Carrington House case.

Carrington House was a hostel in Deptford which housed around 50 West African immigrants who were directed there by the Colonial Office.

The men faced increasing antagonism from the local community and had difficulty finding jobs or being served. In 1949 14 of the men were arrested for ‘affray.’

The NCCL arranged their defence and the majority were acquitted, exposing severe race discrimination.


The NCCL publishes 50,000 Outside the Law, a groundbreaking report on those unjustly incarcerated under the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act.

50,000 outside the law poster.

After years of NCCL campaigning to reform the mental health system, a Royal Commission report vindicates their arguments with almost 2,000 patients released by 1958.

The Mental Health Act 1913 is abolished and new Mental Health Review Tribunals established, at which Liberty regularly represents the interests of patients.


Freedom of speech and assembly becomes a major civil liberties issue following the government response to the activities of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the Committee of 100 (an anti-war group).

The NCCL investigates police behaviour at demonstrations.

The Cobden Trust (later the Civil Liberties Trust) is founded as a research and charitable arm.

Landmark Challenor case taken:

Four young people taking part in a demonstration were accused of carrying weapons. All stated that the weapons (half bricks) had been planted on them by Sergeant Harold Challenor.

The NCCL supported the defendants and all the charges were dismissed or withdrawn. Challenor was investigated by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the case led to the release of several people who had been wrongly imprisoned.

The first Race Relations Act is passed, after lobbying by the NCCL and others.

An emergency ‘Speak out on Race’ meeting is organised following Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech, and an NCCL petition is presented to Prime Minister. The NCCL also runs a major campaign on privacy.

Privacy under attack campaign poster.


The NCCL campaigns against internment in Northern Ireland, and collects 600 witness statements to show that the army showed criminal recklessness after 14 people were killed on the 1972 civil rights march known as ‘Bloody Sunday.’

The NCCL buys millions of Konfax credit-rating files offered for sale for one penny – promptly destroying them.

Launch of major Right to Know campaign, which calls for greater protection of individuals’ confidential information.

The NCCL sets up an independent inquiry into the death of activist Blair Peach at an anti-National Front demonstration.


After the Highways Act 1959 made it illegal to camp on highway verges, the NCCL worked to protect traveller and gypsy communities from persecution. The Act is abolished in 1980 after a long campaign.

Following NCCL campaigning, the ‘sus’ laws, which allowed police to stop and search on the grounds of suspicion alone, are repealed.

The NCCL supports Kathleen Stewart in an application to the European Commission following the death of her teenage son, hit by a plastic bullet in Belfast in 1976.

Customs and Excise officers seize the stock of Gay’s the Word bookshop. The NCCL offers support and representation and all charges are dropped in 1986.

During the miners’ strike, the NCCL strongly upholds the right to strike and campaigns on behalf of miners stopped from picketing outside their home regions.

The NCCL changes its name to Liberty, and the new identity is launched at a press conference at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London by playwright Harold Pinter, Robin Cook MP and others.


The European Court of Human Rights rules that MI5 surveillance of Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt during their time working at Liberty breached the European Convention.

Liberty publishes a ‘People’s Charter’ as part of a campaign for human rights to be enshrined in UK law.

Liberty’s long campaign to bring the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law finally succeeds with the passing of the Human Rights Act.

The Human Rights Act: What’s not to love?


Liberty wins a declaration from the European Court of Human Rights that the intrusive investigation and eventual dismissal of Graeme Grady and Jeanette Smith from the armed forces because of their sexuality infringed their right to respect f or their private lives.

Terrorist attacks in New York on 11 September provoke a raft of anti-terror legislation with serious implications for civil liberties.

Using the protections in the new Human Rights Act Liberty supports terminally ill Diane Pretty’s fight to choose when to end her life.

Christine Goodwin successfully uses the Human Rights Act to have her new gender legally recognised following discrimination and harassment at work. After almost 50 years of case judgments that have failed to protect transgender rights, the ruling marks a historic breakthrough.

The Civil Liberties Trust becomes the first UK charity to adopt ‘promoting human rights’ as an objective.

Liberty intervenes in a major case, A & Others, in which the Law Lords rule that detaining non-British nationals without trial is unlawful, a crucially important decision for future government policy.

Government whistleblower Katharine Gun is successfully defended by Liberty:

In the lead-up to the Iraq war Katharine Gun, an employee of GCHQ, was accused of disclosing to the media that the US had requested assistance from British intelligence to tap the telephones of members of the UN Security Council.

Gun argued that the disclosures exposed serious wrongdoing and that she acted out of necessity to prevent the deaths of Iraqis and British forces in an “illegal war.”

Following a request for disclosure of the Attorney General’s advice on the legality of the war the prosecution was dropped.

In A & Others the Law Lords confirm that evidence obtained through torture is not admissible in British courts.

Government proposals for an increased limit of 90-day detention without trial in terror cases are defeated.

Liberty runs major campaigns against the introduction of ID cards and the UK’s involvement in torture overseas.

Liberty Not ID Cards projection on the Palace of Westminster.

Liberty calls for a public inquiry into the mistreatment of asylum seekers at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre.

After 15 months of Liberty’s award winning Charge or Release campaign and a resounding Lords defeat, the Government’s 42 day pre-charge detention proposals are dropped.

The European Court ruling in S & Marper DNA retention case strikes a blow for privacy protection.

Charge or Release campaign poster.

Liberty brings a legal case on behalf of a victim of modern-day slavery and publicises the vacuum in legal protection, resulting in a new law criminalising forced labour in the UK.


The European Court rules in Liberty’s case Gillan and Quinton that Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (the broad police power for stop and search without suspicion) violates the right to respect for private life.

The ID Card scheme is scrapped, after years of campaigning by Liberty and others.

The new Coalition Government also announces a long overdue review of counter-terror legislation.

Liberty returns to its 1930s roots providing legal observers for the TUC march against public spending cuts.

After a decade-long campaign, Liberty welcomes the Home Secretary’s announcement that Gary McKinnon will not face extradition to the US.

A leaked letter from the Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor reveals proposals to force communications service providers to keep a record of people’s “communication data” – detailing every phone call, text, email and website visit we make.

Liberty launches a major No Snoopers’ Charter campaign and collaborates with other organisations in opposing the proposals. In spring 2013, the Snoopers’ Charter is dropped.

After beginning work on a series of legal cases involving suspicious deaths of young military personnel, Liberty launches its Military Justice campaign to protect and uphold the human rights of those serving in the British Armed Forces.

Liberty calls for sexual assault allegations by military personnel to be automatically referred for investigation by the Service Police and Director of Service Prosecutions and for an independent watchdog to be created with the power to review cases.

The Edward Snowden leaks reveal that GCHQ has access to the transatlantic cables carrying the world’s communications and is intercepting and processing billions of communications every day and sharing the information with the US.

Liberty calls for an overhaul of outdated privacy regulations and launches two legal claims on behalf of a coalition of human rights groups, challenging the legality of the security services’ activities.

Liberty condemns the use of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act to detain David Miranda, the partner of the Guardian journalist working with whistleblower Edward Snowden. The power allows for people to be detained for 9 hours, fingerprinted, strip searched and interrogated without right of access to a lawyer.

Liberty intervenes in support of Miranda in his legal challenge.

The UK Government targets ethnically diverse areas of London with mobile billboards carrying the slogan ‘In the UK illegally? Go Home or face arrest,’ accompanied by immigration ‘spot checks.’

Liberty responds with an alternative van accusing the Home Office of stirring up social tensions. The “Go Home” vans are subsequently scrapped.

Liberty’s ‘Home Office: Think Again’ van.

The Conservative Party – with their manifesto commitment to scrap the Human Rights Act – is elected to Government in the May General Election. Liberty is ready, and launches the Save Our Human Rights Act campaign.

After the rushed introduction of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) in 2014, Liberty, Tom Watson MP and David Davis MP launch a legal challenge arguing that DRIPA is incompatible with the Human Rights Act and EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The High Court finds that DRIPA is unlawful (and the Government appeal the decision).

Liberty, Privacy International, Amnesty International, ACLU and a number of other national human rights organisations from around the world bring proceedings against GCHQ in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT).

The Tribunal finds that GCHQ breached its own internal – and secret – policies on the interception, examination and retention of email from two organisations, violating their rights under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act.

Nine days after announcing its ruling, the IPT reveals the two organisations that were spied on were Amnesty International and Legal Resources Centre – not the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights who the Tribunal initially stated was subject to unlawful surveillance.

Liberty campaigns against the Snoopers’ Charter. The UK’s Investigatory Powers Act – one of the most intrustive surveillance laws ever introduced in a democratic country – was rushed through Parliament.

More than 200,000 people signed a petition calling for the Act’s repeal – but this wasn’t debated by Parliament.

Liberty launched a landmark legal challenge to the extreme mass surveillance powers in the Government’s new Investigatory Powers Act –the most intrusive mass surveillance regime ever introduced in a democracy.

This case was crowdfunded, with over £50,000 donated from the public.

In April 2018, Liberty won its legal challenge to part of the Government’s Investigatory Powers Act. The powers ordering private companies to store everyone’s communications data were unlawful and the Government had to change the law.

Joe Ousalice, who was forced out of the Navy due to his sexuality, won his fight against the Ministry of Defence. They issued a formal apology, returned the medals stripped from him, and are introducing a policy to restore medals to all LGBT+ veterans affected.


Liberty launches Protect Everyone Bill – an alternative to the Government’s draconian Coronavirus Act. The Protect Everyone Bill rejects the politics of division and criminalisation and calls for a new approach that bridges the divides in society, prioritising support and resources so we can all safely follow public health advice.

Liberty launches Liberty Investigates, a brand-new investigative journalism unit that exposes injustices and human rights abuses of some of those most at risk.

Liberty wins groundbreaking victory against Facial Recognition tech. The Court of Appeal found South Wales Police’s use of facial recognition technology breached privacy rights, data protection laws and equality laws.

Liberty campaign against the Rights Removal Bill, which threatened to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with the Bill of Rights. The Government scrap the Bill before it is voted on.

Liberty take legal action against the Home Secretary, following new laws that change the definition of ‘serious disruption’ at a protest to ‘more than minor’ – giving police almost unlimited power to shut down protests.