Bar chair Owen slams Police Bill and calls for rights in law

Bar Council chair Robert Owen has condemned the government's Police Bill, saying it demonstrates the need to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law.

Addressing a meeting on the Police Bill last week, which was held jointly by the Law Society, Liberty and Justice, Owen said: “Much as we welcome Michael Howard's conversion, the history of this Bill is disturbing.

“The Bill in its first form represented a serious erosion of our civil liberties. It is a matter of great concern that this is not recognised by those who drafted and promulgated the Bill. This episode demonstrates that we cannot take our civil rights and liberties for granted.

“Surely it is the strongest reinforcement of the argument that the European Convention of Human Rights be incorporated into domestic law.”

Although the Bar Council and the Law Society welcomed the amendments adopted by Howard, which require the police to obtain authorisation for secret surveillance from a Commissioner, they remain concerned over some aspects, including the wide definition of “serious crime” in the Bill.

Law Society president Tony Girling expressed concern that legal professional privilege was not safeguarded by the amendments and compared the indiscriminate nature of bugging with “big brother”.