Mitchell warns over civil liberties

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Published: Sunday 12th October 2014 by The News Editor

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A former cabinet minister has warned of the dangers of politicians playing “fast and loose” with Britain’s civil liberties.

Andrew Mitchell, who resigned from the Government over the “Plebgate” row, said the public should think very carefully about giving up what he described as “British values”.

Mr Mitchell spoke out after David Cameron used his speech to the Conservative Party conference earlier this month to announce plans to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights if he wins the next election.

“I think you should all be very careful with a generation of politicians who play fast and loose with the ancient liberties of this country, which our forefathers fought for,” Mr Mitchell said.

“The time of greatest shame in my Parliamentary career was when Parliament discussed whether people could be detained for 90 days.

“The idea that in Britain you can lock somebody up for 90 days without charging them is absolutely extraordinary.

“I remember not long ago on June 6 – the 70th anniversary of D-Day – where politicians were trumpeting what we fought for in World War Two, it was also the day that it was announced there would be a secret court in Britain.

“We do not live in a community where we have secret trials. Remember when you give powers to the state you give powers to people like us with our prejudices and preconceptions.

“And I think as a generation we should be very, very wary of giving up these ancient liberties, characterised sometimes as ‘British values’, which today’s politicians play too fast and too loose with.”

Mr Mitchell added: “We are a generation of politicians who have never had to fight a major war like our fathers and grandfathers had to do.

“That’s why I say with some passion do not let politicians give away these ancient liberties which have characterised the nature and values of our society.”

Mr Mitchell was speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival at an event chaired by Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti discussing “Policing the Police” with a panel including Baroness Doreen Lawrence, the mother of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Baroness Lawrence said the trust she had in the police, which was slowly recovering following the death of her son, had just “disappeared” in the last two years.

“The communication between the family and the police have gone down again, which is such a shame because I was beginning to develop that trust,” she said.

“In the last two years that has just disappeared. For us to have trust and confidence in the police it needs to be open and we need to see what they are doing.

“If an officer is being disciplined, we need to know about it. It is no good disciplining officers and nobody ever hears what happens.

“If we don’t know, that level of trust will always be low. At the end of the day and the police seem to forget this, that without us giving them the authority to police us they are not able to do that.

“Until police officers understand that – I’m not saying senior officers don’t – but officers on the ground somehow don’t have that understanding.”

Mr Mitchell said that he believed Britain had one of the finest police forces in the world.

“I think by and large the vast majority of police officers are decent men and women, trying to deliver a really good service in their community,” he said.

“I have come to the conclusion having had a couple of years to think and learn that we need a Royal Commission on the British police because we have departed very significantly from the original Peelite concept of the police – that the public are the police and the police are the public.

“We need to face up to the fact that the model is not as we would wish it, with 65% confidence in the police is an appalling figure and that’s why I think we need a Royal Commission.

“Politicians on the whole are not willing to take on the police.

“The speech Theresa May made at the Police Federation conference this year was very, very unusual. I think she said what needed to be said.”

Mr Mitchell also called for an overhaul of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and urged gross misconduct hearings for police officers to be held in public.

“I sat through five of them in my case and I was absolutely horrified by what I heard and I wanted the public to know what had happened but it wasn’t possible to do so,” he added.

Published: Sunday 12th October 2014 by The News Editor

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