Freedom News

Legal News Digest: Nov-Dec 2020

From the legislative war on sex workers to new rules governing criminal record disclosure, Carl Spender is here with a round-up of the last month’s legal news.

On more than one occasion this year, I have lamented the never-ending game of catch-up I seem to be playing with the mutating provisions of the Health Protection Regulations. No sooner do I publish an article analysing the rules on outdoor gatherings than this benighted government rushes out another badly drafted statutory instrument that renders my conclusions null and void.

Since my last column, this situation has only worsened, thanks to both the government’s continuing tardiness in publishing legislation, and the sheer number of important legal stories that have arisen over the last few weeks.

For this reason, instead of writing an in-depth analysis of a single issue, this month I’ve decided to produce digest of recent legal news items that deserve your ire and attention.

1. Anti-sex work bill passes its first reading:
On Wednesday 9th December, a bill to criminalise the purchase of sex, as well as banning all forms of profiting from sex work (including review websites), passed its first reading in the House of Commons.

This bill – championed by certain cop-loving “feminists” in the Labour Party – is an attempt to introduce the ‘Nordic Model‘ into England and Wales, following its implementation in Northern Ireland in 2015 (with predictably horrific results). Similar proposals are currently out for consultation in Scotland.

The Nordic Model is vehemently opposed by sex worker rights groups (as well as liberal NGOs like Amnesty International) on the grounds that the criminalisation of sex workregardless of whether the focus of the law is on the purchase or sale of sexcauses serious and substantial harm to sex workers themselves. As such, while this bill is still a long way from becoming law, it represents a serious threat to a community who already experience the violence of the state on a day-to-day basis.

Freedom will be publishing more on this story in the days and weeks to come. For the time being, anyone wanting to learn more about the bill, the Nordic model and the struggle for full decriminalisation would do well to begin with this twitter thread:

2. Changes to the rules on criminal record disclosure:
On the 18th November, the government announced significant changes to the criminal record disclosure regime.

The so-called ‘filtering rules’ determine which convictions and cautions no longer show up on standard and enhanced criminal record checks issued by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) in England and Wales.

As of 28th November, childhood cautions will no longer be disclosed on standard or enhanced DBS checks, while a the blanket rules which require the automatic disclosure of all convictions where a person has more than one conviction, has been abolished. 

The changes are the result of a Supreme Court judgement handed down at the beginning of 2019, which found two aspects of the disclosure regime to be in breach of Article 8 of the ECHR.

For more information, see this guide by the charity Unlock.

3. Protest is legal (for now)
After weeks of confusion, there is finally some clarity on the legal status of protest. In follow up to a meticulous piece published back in September, Lochlinn Parker and the ITN solicitors civil liberties department have published an extended analysis of the coronavirus regulations that came into force 02/12/20, concluding that protests are exempt from the ban on outside gatherings, provided organisers plan for and carry out necessary precautions to stop the spread of Covid-19.

4. But expect a major crackdown on the the right to protest in 2021
The government is planning to introduce major changes to public order legislation to crack down on protests, under a new “Protection of the Police and Public Bill” planned for 2021. The fine folks at Netpol published an excellent introduction to the gov’s proposals and why they should worry anyone who values freedom of expression and assembly.

5. You can’t magically opt out of the law (no matter what you claim the Magna Carta says)
I’m going to say this one time, and one time only: as an inhabitant of this godforsaken isle, you do not get to choose whether or not a law – let alone, statutory law as a whole – applies to you. If you commit an act that contravenes a statutory provision, it will do you no fucking good to stand up in court and say that you haven’t consented to the law, so it therefore doesn’t apply to you. This is not a defence that is recognised by any court in the land (other than the pretend one overseen by your weird uncle at the village hall), and will only result in a pissed off judge and, quite possibly, a custodial sentence for contempt of court#. 

In any other year, there would be no need for me to (re)articulate such a basic notion. However, this is 2020 and thanks to ideas widely circulating in the anti-lockdown movement, a lot more people have been calling up the protest support line to discuss this bizarre and dangerous understanding of the law (usually confined to new-age circles connected with the Freemen of the Land).

Rather than pick over this fatuous fantasy myself, I will merely point the reader in the direction of one of my least favourite legal writers, the Secret Barrister, who has comprehensively demolished this nonsense on their blog.

Carl Spender

Photo Credit: Tits and Sass

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