Qualification of 'emergency'
The current proposals allow the Government to declare an 'emergency' and give itself
far-reaching powers at the slightest excuse (An event need only be abroad, or 'threatened'... e.g. announcement of a train strike in France would do!). This would be 'over the top' to any reasonable person.
An 'emergency' should be defined in terms of an actual disaster, that has happened in the UK and
which provides a serious and widespread threat to human health or safety here.
Having been trained, emergency services and other 'responders' should be able to cope on standby
for threatened disasters, or for localised catastrophes that might escalate. Police, military
and other security services will have had similar training for security alerts.
Protect the functioning of Parliament and courts
The Government should do everything reasonably possible to ensure that our system can function.
For instance, in the case of chemical contamination affecting Westminster, a provincial site
should be found. The Government has long had extensive guidelines for maintaining continuity.
In the extreme case, national coalition government.
In wartime, extreme conditions mean suspending party rivalry. Should it be impossible for Parliament to function,
then a cross-party coalition, with a two-thirds majority for key decisions, is the most
practical safeguard against the dictatorship of a one-party state.
No draconian powers to suspend or amend legislation
Genuine emergencies would probably be rare, localised and/or short-lived. Therefore there should be no
'fast-track route to dictatorship' that can bypass Parliamentary law-making, with its safeguards of independent and media scrutiny.
If someone needed to break a speed limit to get a medical emergency victim to hospital, a court
would not convict due to the circumstances. Similarly, if a Minister had no option but to make troops
trespass on private land to contain a chemical spill, then they could justify their actions as reasonable.
No destruction or confiscation of property without due compensation
An emergency should not be used as an excuse for absolutism, otherwise an unscrupulous
government could commandeer or destroy anything that was inconvenient to it. If it had also conveniently
neutered the House of Lords or the courts (as even the recent Bill would enable) there would be no legal redress.
There is no case for losing our Common Law rights.
The need to pay reasonable compensation would also ensure that Government action is more considered.
(NB The law of course allows for the destruction/confiscation of weapons and goods used in crime).
Protection of habeas corpus
Individuals whose actions are within the law but inconvenient to the Government (such as whistle-blowers or pensioners having a peaceful protest) should be protected against arbitrary detention that might deny them access to the courts. Such individuals should should either be charged with an offence for which there is due evidence,
and given a public trial; or released - and within a reasonable period of time. (NB There are separate legal provisions for dealing with genuine cases of terrorism).
Safeguards on the delegation of emergency powers
Recent proposals allow no safeguards on individuals to whom powers can be delegated. In theory,
they could be given to officers of a non-UK institution such as Europol, who have immunity
Power without accountability gives scope for abuse. Powers must only be delegated to
individuals accountable to the Crown, and where possible, those designated as being
responsible for dealing with a recognised emergency.
No use of Royal Prerogative by Ministers
The excuse that the Head of State might not be contactable is a lame one. If Ministers
cannot contact the Head of State (or their substitute), it would show extreme negligence in national security.
Powers of Royal Prerogative are more far-reaching than people realise, and include the power
to appoint a new government or pardon a convicted criminal. They would also allow a Treaty
(such as the European Constitution) to be concluded through the back door. Some Head of State
powers come with immunity from prosecution! Extreme powers need very tight safeguards,
and the independence provided for by the Regency Act needs to be preserved.
Protection from diktat. Access to judicial review.
A government that aspires to greater 'access to justice' and is truly the servant of
the people would want to be fully accountable for its actions.
The Bill should allow for all actions taken to have accountability to deter abuse of powers. Operational measures taken should be necessary and proportionate to contain a threat; otherwise reasonable (e.g. in reversing an evacuation after the danger has passed). The grounds of national security should not
be abused to escape accountability for actions on commonplace civil and criminal matters
having no genuine security aspect.
Current proposals allow for virtually any action that Ministers 'think fit' without qualification, such as
closing down websites at whim. Web/email facilities used for illegal purposes - as opposed to criticising Government policy, say - can be withdrawn now, so why should fresh regulation be necessary?
Preventing abuse of oral regulations.
Unwritten regulations should only be issued where it would create danger if the issuer
had to delay action by putting them in writing. (Many 'responder' organisations would be
reluctant to act without written confirmation because of the possibility of hoax or
the need to show justification for drastic action).
Such regulations should only be made on the basis of evidence of urgency, and threats
to public health, safety, etc. They should be filed centrally within 24 hours and copied to the responding party, unless
there were over-riding reasons for delaying this. If they create an ongoing public obligation, they should be published
in an accessible place within say, 24 hours.
If any individual is detained for failing to comply with them, then
that individual should be given a charge sheet confirming the regulation immediately
after detention. The onus must be on the authorities to prove that such detention was
necessary, any charges justified and due process observed.