Civil Liberties in the UK

“Overall, therefore, the Human Rights Act 1998 appears to be having a significant and positive effect on the development of civil liberties in the UK." [1] Contrary to this claim, there is a growing contention in the United Kingdom over civil liberties, principally on the debate that in the UK civil liberties have been unduly constrained as part of UK’s policy on counterterrorism. There are contentions that the UK is dealing with the threat to its civil liberties, including arguments against such contentions, as well as the suggestion that guardians of civil liberties show unwarranted pessimism. It may be argued that civil liberties have been restricted, but a view on counter terrorism presents the state of affairs is not as appalling as thought of by the critics. The major risk to civil liberties possibly will come from the field external from the operations of counter terrorism and rests in a number of developments in common criminal investigation and public order. More notably, the practices and procedures of the private as well as the public sector, principally on surveillance, as part of what is characterised the risk society.

Civil Liberties

Like human rights, civil liberties have continued to develop and have extended into spheres which were considered in the past as irrelevant. In context, the central idea of civil liberty is tied up with the concept of civil society – that part of the social as well as political area where the state have no power over at either the local or central level. This essentially includes rights of assembly, association and expression, people having the choice to come together, to organize, to protest and to argue. [2] Democracy is separate from civil liberties. Freedom to debate and assembly in the UK, for instance, was present before democracy and even now could put demands on the government. Certainly, it is the development of civil liberties in the UK that in time fixed democratisation. Nevertheless, the two strengthened each other. The principal aim of civil liberties, Ewing and Gearty contend, is to uphold political participation and that by itself is a field which promotes a dynamic political culture. [3] Ultimately, what is the sense of having the freedom to join in pressure groups, come together for protests or convey statement or argue in publications if it leads not to a system where the citizenry is given notice by the government? [4] 

UK liberties were not conserved in any particular documents notwithstanding the British Constitution of 1688. The freedom of the citizens from state actions was guaranteed by both the courts and parliament. Citizens were unrestricted except when otherwise stipulated by the law. [5] In the matter of human rights, written documents were a factor. Due to international law’s growing influence subsequent to 1945, the UK became a signatory to the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as well as a number of other documents such as the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention Against Torture (1984). The UK government was put through a spate of unfavorable decisions by the European Court of Human Rights during the period 1970s to 1980s in such matters as rights of prisoners, interrogation, and right to life. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and Police Act 1997 were bits of UK legislation showing the mounting importance of ECHR compliance by the UK. The ECHR was integrated into the UK law under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Conclusively, human rights and civil liberties ought to have exceptions – the necessity for national security, the pursuit of grave felony and public order are exceptions to the right of personal liberty of every person. In addition, every nation has latitude in construing the ECHR. Furthermore, the greatly disparaged Human Rights Act includes an escape clause – the facility to suspend adherence from a number of rights in moments of emergency. [6] 

Constraining liberty presupposes to guarantee the protection and development of others – the restraint of liberty of an offender is made to safeguard the public; in the same manner, with terrorism. It is not right, as John Reid asserted, that an alleged terrorist’s individual rights be put over the rights of the British citizens. [7] The Ministers correctly contend that the government is not restricting civil liberties – it is in fact curtailing a number of liberties to safeguard the public. Certainly, the ECHR beckons the UK to guarantee the right to life. [8] Consequently when limits on pre-charge detention are changed by the government or initiates house arrest for alleged terrorists, it means it is safeguarding right to life (Art. 2) by curtailing the right to liberty and security (Art. 5) and the right to a fair trial (Art. 6). These findings are not exclusive to political conservatives. The liberals contend that the civil liberty of freedom of expression should be restrained to avert hate words against racial minority, homosexuals, and religious groups. [9] 

Making Private Life Public

Parts of social life for the past two decades which were believed previously to rest in the control of the voluntary and individual sector have move toward the direct power of the state. This development started with the Conservatives. It was observed by critics the irony that the governments of Thatcher avowed that they aspired to free the citizen although as component of their reforms the public sector in reality expanded and the state had become even powerful. [10] For instance, the expansion of the Child Support Agency by the Conservatives which became what was actually a private affair controlled by civil law into a state controlled segment reinforced by surveillance and system of punishment. Even as the efficacy of this system was restricted at the very least, it characterised a development in the direction of the nationalisation of social life. This had gone on and stepped up under the auspices of the New Labour governments (1997), stimulated by the potent idea that the general public was a risk society and members of society could not be relied upon. Hence, the pervasiveness of domestic violence and sexual assault problem – pointed out by Furedi in reply to the justified media hype accorded to child abuse scandals – every person is now regarded as a possible abuser of some kind or other. [11] The consequence is the Children Act 2004.

It is not simply just this according to Penna. It is the increasingly growing meaning of what represents child welfare and, therefore, needs monitoring. On good grounds, this has been developed – to avert the deficiency of information exchange which has placed children to the danger of grave harm beforehand. Nonetheless, even as information referral and tracking is suggested as a strategy intended at freeing children from deprivation, insecurity and abuse, it could also be used as a means of far-reaching, intrusive and possibly a politically oppressive social control. [12] The thought of political control may be extreme but what is significant is that such extension could breach the Human Rights Act (Art. 8) as a lopsided invasion of privacy.


Arguments on the status of civil liberties in the UK are time and again typified by criticising from already well-established positions. [13] Crusaders of civil liberties contend that the anti-terror government is crafting some kind of unparalleled emergency powers that is permanent. The government and a number of commentators, on the other hand, contend the present threat is extraordinary and that concerns regarding civil liberties are exaggerated. The contentions of either side are often deficient on in depth analysis. In reality, the war on terror has witnessed the state obtain powers to respond to terrorism. Nevertheless, there is an apparent threat of terrorism. A number of these are noteworthy, embracing such threat as preventive detention and the establishment of ID cards. Public order powers, on the other hand, could be troublesome if they are being exploited or misused. Grave errors had been made, the de Menezes shooting for instance. Conversely, the new powers have been utilised cautiously and are put through intensely by the media, academic, interested groups, legal and other examination.

Worries on civil liberties could come up not from the intense part of dealing with terrorism. For instance, on the matter of long-established police powers, for the last decade these have been increased. Public places can nowadays be cordoned off more easily; DNA can be obtained on arrest and put in storage indefinitely. An area which unifies both sides concerns matter of surveillance. The implementation of ID cards by the state and the procedures for the gathering and preservation of data have developed over the public sector. Agencies of the police have indeed more dynamic systems of accountability compared to other agencies of the state, for instance, the organizations of health and benefits which have authorities of information collection and approval but are not as broadly covered. In the private sector this is equally true on the matter of collecting remarkable amounts of data on consumers’ lifestyle and consumption habits, and for insurance purposes. Although these systems’ ineffectiveness is evident, these should not be disregarded.