BONFIRE OF THE LIBERTIES: NEW LABOUR, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND THE RULE OF LAW by K.D. EWING

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6478.2010.00527.x
Publication Date01 Dec 2010
AuthorHELEN FENWICK
BONFIRE OF THE LIBERTIES: NEW LABOUR, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND
THE RULE OF LAW by K.D. EWING
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, 336 pp., £50.00)
This is, in a number of respects, an opportune moment to publish a book on
civil liberties in the United Kingdom. It comes after the Human Rights Act
has been in force almost ten years and it will be read in the wake of the 2010
General Election, at a moment when the new government in the coalition
agreement promises the restoration of the right to non-violent protest and the
review of a range of repressive laws, passed under New Labour. The book
concentrates on New Labour's record on civil liberties, which includes
attacking the one piece of legislation that might have appeared to offer some
corrective to repressive laws and state abuse of power ± the Human Rights
Act (HRA).
In chapter 1 Ewing indicates ± unsurprisingly to anyone who knows his
work ± that a key theme of the book will be that human rights have been
shown to be futile as a defence against executive power and also that the
power of the HRA is one `with which the courts have not yet fully engaged'.
This theme is then pursued in the contexts of privacy, police powers,
protest, free speech, counter-terror powers, the focus remaining largely on
the New Labour years in government. The most valuable parts of this book
are the varied and detailed descriptions of attacks on civil liberties in the
fields of surveillance, protest, and the analysis of the curtailment of civil
liberties in the name of counter-terrorism post 9/11. The discussions mix
analysis of the statutory provisions with quotes from particular cases, and
from a wide range of less conventional sources, with the effect of making a
forthright and compelling case that New Labour has continued `the attack on
liberty . . . associated with the Thatcher and Major regimes' (p. 7).
However, the aspects of the interaction between the HRA and repressive
laws emphasized in these chapters are somewhat selective. For example,
Ewing makes the point in chapter 3 in relation to freedom of protest that `not
a single law has been consigned to the dustbin as a result of the Human
Rights Act', referring to pre-1988 statutory provisions. That is, of course,
correct. But it is not the whole story. The common law doctrine of breach of
the peace provides such broad powers to the police to intervene in protest as
to render the statutory schemes aimed specifically at assemblies and marches
almost redundant. Ewing acknowledges that those powers were curbed in
Laporte,
1
but downplays the role of the HRA in the decision, even though
the Lords directly invoked the doctrine of proportionality under Articles 10
and 11, para. 2 to determine the outcome. He concludes that the contribution
of the HRA to freedom of assembly has been virtually non-existent; the
682
1R (Laporte) v. Gloucester Chief Constable [2006] UKHL 55.
ß2010 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2010 Cardiff University Law School

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT