Privacy and Civil Liberties Board consultation

30 January 2015

The consultation on the creation of a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, as raised by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill 2014-15, closes today.

In response to the consultation, Alistair MacDonald, Chairman of the Bar, said:

"Setting up a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to scrutinise terror legislation has been costed at up to £800,000 per year[1], but removing restrictions on David Anderson QC, who the Government already pays to do this, and allowing him to review all relevant terror laws, would certainly be cheaper, and would most likely be more effective.

"There is no doubt that counter-terrorism legislation protects us and saves lives in times of increased threat but, in the midst of the clamour for greater security and surveillance powers, it is all the more important that the fundamental rights be protected. It is, therefore, absolutely right that proper weight is given to privacy and civil liberties concerns, and the Bar Council commends the Government for recognising this.

"However, plans to create a UK Privacy and Civil Liberties Board miss the point. Terror legislation, which gives security agencies access to our most intimate details, must be the subject of effective scrutiny and independent oversight, and the creation of a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, as outlined in the consultation, will not achieve this aim.

"Already there exists an Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, whose job is to scrutinise terror laws in light of civil liberties and privacy concerns.

"Scrutiny would better, and more cheaply, be achieved by giving the Independent Reviewer the scope he needs to review the relevant legislation, and the extra resources he has asked for.

"For example, despite being tasked with reviewing terror laws, David Anderson QC is currently not able to review some of those that place our freedoms at greatest risk, including the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, and the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. Nor is he able to review the controversial issue of withdrawing passport facilities or the provisions of the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill.[2]

"If the Government wishes to reassure the public that such oversight is taking place, its first port of call might be to allow the Reviewer to scrutinise the legislation which most threatens our freedoms.

"Furthermore, there is a crowded oversight community already in existence. It is not clear how another board, particularly without the necessary scope, will help. It could just generate confusion and undermine rather than reinforce public understanding of the process.

"Finally, the suggestion that the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation should chair the board could actually reduce the Reviewer's capacity for scrutiny and oversight. The worry is that the Board may in practice burden the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, rather than support and augment his function."

Ends

[1]Impact assessment: Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, Home Office, 26 November 2014, p.8  

2] https://terrorismlegislationreviewer.independent.gov.uk/oversight-of-counter-terrorism-powers/

Notes to editors

1. Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.

2. The  Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes: 

  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services

  • Fair access to justice for all

  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and

  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad. 

3. The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board