78 years of Liberty

Posted by Ian McDonald on 24 February 2012

This week Liberty turned 78 years old. It’s hard to believe but it’s now been more than three quarters of a century since we were first formed as the National Council for Civil Liberties. That sounds like a long time, but the similarities between February 1934 and February 2012 are quite startling.

Britain in the early thirties was crippled by economic crisis and social unrest. In 1932 the National Hunger March organisers attempted to deliver to Parliament a one million signature petition opposing legislation that had plunged thousands into poverty. Around 100,000 people – including our founder Ronald Kidd – headed to Hyde Park to meet the marchers. Thousands of police mobilised and serious violence erupted throughout London, leaving many badly hurt. That brutality inspired Kidd to create Liberty, and he and his fellow founders vowed to defend British freedom by becoming neutral observers of subsequent marches.

All of this sounds rather familiar. Here we are again, amidst similar financial uncertainty and public disquiet. The capital’s streets have recently been the stage for protests connected to everything from university fees to public spending cuts. Such parallels take us back to our roots and remind us of why we are here.

It’s been a busy 78 years. We’ve worked on a huge array of issues – from fighting internment and abuse of police power to protecting free speech and peaceful protest. Our long-running campaign to bring the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law finally came to fruition with the passing of the Human Rights Act 1998. And in 2008, after 15 months of our award-winning Charge or Release campaign and a resounding Lords defeat, the Government’s proposals for 42 day pre-charge detention were scrapped.

Over those years we’ve done our best to be the conscience of the nation. What’s remained constant throughout is our sense of purpose. We can never take our liberty for granted – indeed it’s in times of austerity and social upheaval that our fundamental rights and freedoms often come under greatest attack. Our work remains as necessary now as it was all those years ago.

The challenges keep on coming and today we strive to continue the work the Council began. When Ronald Kidd passed away in 1942, his friend and colleague EM Forster wrote a moving tribute, the words of which are now carved on a plaque that still hangs in our central London offices:

“Passionate in his hatred of injustice, wise in judgment, fearless in action, he championed the liberties of the people in the fight that is never done”.

We couldn’t have said it any better. Thank you to all our members and supporters for your invaluable ongoing support. Here’s to the next 78 years!


  • Find out more about Liberty’s history