No compromise on Clause 152

The BMA and seven other healthcare organisations wrote last week to the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, urging him to exempt personal medical and health data from the government’s mega-database of personal information.

Jack Straw announced last week that he was reconsidering the wording of the clause in the light of protests and complaints from authoritative figures including the Information Commissioner. He’s even sending one of his ministers to meet the BMA to discuss their concerns.

Make no mistake, excluding medical data and health records won’t reduce the authoritarian potency of this legislative ratchet. If you are interested in protecting your privacy, you must accept no compromise and continue the campaign to have the whole of this clause struck from the bill before it passes into law.

Government seek to rush Clause 152 through report stage

Alan Reid MP, replying to my letter to him regarding Clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill, has indicated that the government might seek to limit debate on the clause and force it through the report stage.

Indicating his opposition to the data-sharing clause, Alan Reid also stated:

I will also vote against any Government attempt to prevent it being properly scrutinised at Report Stage in the Commons. Report Stage will probably be in March or April

If you care about preventing this authoritarian tosh getting into law, write to your MP and raise with her the risk that procedural shenanigans should also be opposed at every opportunity.

Would you trust Jack Straw and Harriet Harman with your personal data? I don’t.

Some videos from the Convention on Modern Liberty

(Re-posted from the Convention on Modern Liberty’s Videos page.)

At last, a chance to watch again some of the sessions from Saturday. Hopefully more videos will be published, including some of the sessions from around the country.


Thanks to Jake Dowie and Global Mix, we were able to stream video of some of the events in the Logan Hall in London to viewers across the country. We hope to have this video up in more accessible format later, but for now here are links to some sections of it:

First plenary session ( normal quality link / high quality link )

‘Can liberty survive the slump?’ ( normal quality link / high quality link )

Lord Bingham at the ‘Judges and politicians’ session ( normal quality link / high quality link )

The higher quality links will be slower to load. Some basic help in viewing these videos can be found below.


Windows users should have the latest version of Windows Media Player installed.


Mac users who cannot play the video should first try opening the link at the top of this page in Safari, and if this does not work they should install Windows Media Components for QuickTime, which can be downloaded from


Linux users should be able to play these videos if they can find a version of ‘Totem’ or ‘MPlayer’ for their distrubution – they should consult the documentation which comes with these applications for help.

Ubuntu users may need to install extra codecs, for which they should look at for instructions.

Time for a written constitution

I wrote here about my attendance at the Convention on Modern Liberty’s satellite in Glasgow.

The consensus that emerged from the day was that there needed to be a permanent, fundamental contract between the State and those to whom it owes a duty of care. I’ll explain that last bit in a moment. The problem with the current constitutional settlement in the UK is that it is mutable and subject to fundamental alteration at the whim of an executive which is not sufficiently restrained by the legislature, simply because it is the largest party in the legislature which becomes the executive and therefore can have its own way, even with the most fundamental interests and freedoms of society. There is only one way to address this gaping flaw in the UK’s constitutional arrangements, and that is for there to be a written constitution and a separation of powers between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. Some small steps have been made on the latter path, with the separation of the legislature and the judiciary in the formation of a Supreme Court separate from the House of Lords sitting as the court of last instance, but this is a development which has not come from within, but from external pressure. In consequence we now have a Ministry of Justice, which always sounds to me like something of which every banana republic should be proud. It is clear that the British state cannot of itself and for itself derive a new constitutional arrangement; we, the people, must do that task ourselves.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on Home Affairs, said at the second London plenary session, “we must have a Parliament that is independent of the executive and is able to hold it to account”.

In the discussions at the London convention, it was clear that this was the broad consensus of the meeting, and one, to my mind, which was supported at the Glasgow satellite. There was a mood at the Convention that this should be an annual event until such time as this objective was secured and that the Convention should seek to establish the mechanisms by which a new constitution for these islands could be determined.

To come back to my point about “those to whom the state owes a duty of care”. There was strong agreement amongst all who spoke that human rights are indivisible. They are not “British rights” or “citizens’ rights”, because it is all too easy to redefine who is or is not “British” or a “citizen” and therefore protected or otherwise by right. For that reason, repealing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a British Rights Act or something equally ghastly immediately gives the state the power to derive people of rights – those of the wrong political inclinations (“sorry, old boy, not quite British enough“), of the wrong immigration status (“sorry, old chap, you’re not a citizen, you know“), of being on the wrong end of a British gun (“sorry, old bean, you’re just an enemy combatant“).

I propose that the test of those to whom we should extend rights is quite simply the one of the duty of care. And to answer this question, we have a snail in a bottle of ginger beer to thank. In the 1932 case of Donoghue v. Stevenson [1932] HC 562, the learned judge Lord Atkin said:

“The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbour: and the lawyers question, Who is my neighbour? receives a restricted reply. You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour.  Who then is my neighbour?  The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the act or omissions which are called in question.”

It is clear here that we can regard any constitutional arrangement that adheres to these principles as being sound, robust and founded in indivisible human rights. It would make it absolutely clear that there were no territorial limits to the oversight of the legislature or judiciary in terms of the actions of the executive. We can contrast here the legal lacuna which permitted George W Bush to establish on his personal authority a global regime of internment, illegal rendition and torture in which the British government were able – and pleased – to collude. Such a principle enshrined in a British constitution would protect anyone, anywhere in the world, whatever their status, from the actions of a British Executive and improve on the, admittedly, laudable American model.

Why we collaborate with our own oppression

Transactional analysis offers an interesting insight into the reasons why we, as citizens, collaborate with our own oppression and the salami-slicing of our liberties.

Stephen Karpman identified three roles that people take in relation to each other when they are not acting autonomously as being three points on a triangle. These roles, of Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim had previously been identified by Eric Berne and described in his book Games People Play.

The significance of these roles is that they are positions we learn to take in relation to one another that are not based on reality or each others’ abilities to think, feel or solve problems for themselves.

We learn to get pay-offs from switching from one role to another as we grow up and settle into our own particular patterns of behaviour. These roles switches are also known as games in Transactional Analysis. A classic example is where we offer unwanted help to someone who hasn’t asked for it – we are attempting to Rescue by placing them in the role of Victim – and suddenly find that we’ve had our head bitten off for our trouble – the Victim has switched role to Persecutor and we’ve found ourself the Victim!

The Drama Triangle can be visualised as follows and the switches between positions imagined: R, P and V represent Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim roles.

Karpman's Drama Triangle

Karpman's Drama Triangle

Claude Steiner, in the classic book on why people live the lives they do, Scripts People Live, makes an interesting point about the Rescue role as follows:

The Rescue role is especially mystified in our society. Selflessness, doing for others, generosity are encouraged. Even cooperation is encouraged as part of this mystification. What is not pointed out is that we are encouraged to be selfless, generous and cooperative with people even if they are deceitful, selfish, stingy and uncooperative with us. As an example, the exploitation of workers and little people by politicians and the super-rich who rule [the United States] is made easy by the Rescue tendencies in people which encourage them to be “cooperative”, helpful, hardworking and are therefore easily exploitable.

The same mystification can be seen in the idea of citizenship and respect for authority (irrespective of the realities of the acts of authority) that we all learn as subjects of Her Majesty.