Last updateThu, 28 Mar 2024 2pm

Expert Witness Blog

Concerns mount over new terrorism legislation

The Law Society is one of many august organisations throwing up their hands in horror at some of the implications of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which recently passed through its second reading in the Commons.

A rash of new measures throw a wide net around a large group of people without seeming to ask the question of whether they have actually done anything wrong. And having apprehended those people, the Bill seems to set no limits on the sanctions that can be imposed on them.

The Bill has been described as ‘Orwellian’ by some and bordering on ‘thought crime’ by the UN.

Two aspects of the proposed law in particular were highlighted by the Law Society: allowing the police to question a suspect without a lawyer being present and preventing suspects from having confidential access to their lawyer.

Despite all the concerns, there has been a fall in the number of complaints against the police in the past year. A cause for rejoicing – or is it? Critics point to a change in the way the police record complaints as a possible cause of the fall. Some forces are assiduous in investigating all complaints, while others use a ‘less formal’ procedure.

The second-commonest reason for complaint, however, is described as ‘incivility, impoliteness and intolerance’. Inspector Regan will be turning in his grave.

One instance where the police did appear to act with an excess of ‘incivility’ was in the arrest of a number of protestors in Sheffield, angry about a largely-discredited programme of felling trees in a number of suburbs of the city.

The arrests were described by the police watchdog as ‘inappropriate’ and the officers involved are to be given ‘words of advice’. A storm in a teacup, it may seem, if South Yorkshire Police didn’t have a bit of previous.

Protection of trees is also the aim of a revision of the National Planning Policy Framework. The framework has already come under fire from a number of quarters and may even be illegal, according to some. Campaigning by organisations such as the Woodland Trust has brought about a rethink.

New legislation also protects animals – in particular puppies – from the worst excesses of callous breeders and dealers. What became known as ‘puppy farming’ led to an outpouring of indignation among this nation of animal lovers. The new legislation goes some way to rectify the harm – not least by unifying the policies of different local authorities and introducing a uniform licensing system. The ubiquity of adverts on local websites for puppies and other pets (my local selling site appears awash with snakes) will hopefully be curtailed.

Protection of the public is to the fore with new figures from the Office of Road and Rail, which detailed the number of people killed or injured on the railways in the last financial year. There are still a worrying number of casualties, particularly among those working on the railway – and there was a spike in the number killed who were neither workers nor passengers.

The chair of IOSH’s railway group sees the solution as lying in improved management of the risks to health and safety at a senior management level, alongside increasing scrutiny of the industry’s finances.

No amount of risk analysis can bring back the people who died in the conflagration at Grenfell Tower, but it may help to prevent similar tragedies happening again.

That is the hope of the RIBA, which has put out to consultation its updated Plan of Work for Fire Safety. The architects’ professional body has reacted to Dame Hackitt’s recommendations, rather than waiting for the wheels of legislation to grind into motion.