I. Stand up to power

Image credit: Kate Krivanec

The Government must not become untouchable.

There is a democratic crisis in the UK. This Government is attempting to put itself – and all future governments – beyond the reach of the law, silencing people in the process.

The UK has a system of checks and balances to ensure that whichever party is in government, their actions should remain within the law and don’t infringe upon our fundamental rights.

But those in power have plans to shut down vital avenues ordinary people have to hold them accountable for their actions – in Parliament, through the courts, on the streets and in society.

The threats are many and varied. Here we draw together the threads to give you the complete picture on this Government’s plans. We also explain what you can do to help Liberty and others save these important safety checks so we can all stand up to power.

In Parliament

The Government is shutting down accountability in Parliament by sidelining our elected MPs.

 

Ministers are dodging scrutiny by making many laws through ‘secondary legislation’ which doesn’t get examined by Parliamentarians to the same level an ‘Act of Parliament’ (primary legislation) does. Changes to the law are effectively being made at the whim of a minister.

During the pandemic, the Government frequently made drastic changes to our rights and freedoms with barely a moment’s notice with next to no oversight from Members of Parliament. COVID regulations have been created and amended upwards of 425 times – with many coming into force before or on the same day that MPs first had a chance to debate these changes.

Through the courts

The Government is shutting down accountability by trying to make it much more difficult to challenge the powerful in court.

 

Right now, people can challenge public authorities in court when they act unlawfully. This is known as ‘judicial review’. During the pandemic, some disabled people were able to use judicial review to protect their rights, while legal action taken by two doctors over a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) prompted major changes.

Going to court is usually someone’s last resort, but the Government has come up with proposals which will make it harder for ordinary people to challenge injustice through the legal system.

This threat is emerging through new legislation and through reviews that attempt to weaken existing laws that protect our rights and access to justice.

In the past 12 months the Government has:

  • Set up a panel to look into weakening the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act enables people to enforce their rights in British courts if public authorities don’t respect them. If we can’t enforce our rights, they will become meaningless.
  • Introduced the Overseas Operations Act. It stops soldiers and civilians from taking legal action against the Ministry of Defence if they suffered personal injury or human rights abuse more than six years ago. The Government also attempted to use the Act to decriminalise torture and war crimes committed abroad, and to stop the Human Rights Act from applying in military operations, but these parts were removed following public backlash.
  • Put plans forward that will make it harder for migrants to challenge Home Office decisions that violate their human rights.
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On the streets

The Government is shutting down accountability by creating legislation that effectively gags protestors.

 

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will give police greater power to decide which protests can go ahead, where and for how long, creates a buffer zone around Parliament, makes causing ‘serious annoyance’ punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and more.

Protest is not a gift from the state – it’s our fundamental right. Everyone should be able to speak out against injustice and have their voice heard. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets and signed petitions in recent weeks in opposition to these plans. The Bill must be stopped.

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In society

The Government is shutting down accountability by cutting off the public’s access to information and attempting to discredit journalists, media outlets and organisations which criticise its actions.

 

Last year it emerged that the Government has a secret ‘clearing house’ for freedom of information (FOI) requests. It regularly screens hundreds of requests from journalists and campaigning organisations before refusing to release information to them.

FOI response rates are lower than ever before. By restricting people’s access to information, the Government is by default limiting their ability to scrutinise its actions.

The Government also boycotted Radio 4’s Today Programme from November 2019 until the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as ITV’s Good Morning Britain between April and November 2020 – a clear attempt to shield itself from scrutiny.

More recently, Government ministers have directly attacked journalists for asking probing questions. And they have attempted to discredit the Runnymede Trust for criticising a Government-commissioned report into systemic racism in the UK.

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