Active campaigners believe that the Civil Contingencies Bill should not have become law without water-tight safeguards.

The London Evening Standard editorial (8.1.04) said: "Some of the draconian measures contained in the Civil Contingencies Bill ... are a dangerous over-reaction. The government already has enough legal powers for civil defence against a terrorist attack".

Remember also Lord Acton's words that 'Absolute power corrupts absolutely'

Extreme powers need equally strong safeguards against abuse. If Tony Blair meant what he said on becoming Prime Minister, that "...The people are the masters. We are the servants of the people. We must never forget that...", then he should have had no difficulty in adopting these reasonable changes. The only concessions obtained were that regulations should be written, and the 'emergency' (real or imagined) should be in the UK. We are supposed to trust the control-freak spin-doctor Government on everything else!

We are grateful to the many campaigners who worked hard to:


help us to develop reasoned suggestions for amendments


lobby selected peers - by letters and personal contact


keep the Bill an issue in the media.

Here are some important amendments: (based on text 'HL Bill 77')

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 from prosecution.

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.


Compiled: 5 October 2004; updated 22 November 2004