The Government is refusing to publish detailed legal advice on human rights and privacy aspects of the ID card scheme, according to a report in today's Guardian. The paper says that attorney general Lord Goldsmith has provided this to the Cabinet, but that it is not to be made public, nor will Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights be allowed direct access to the documents.
Immigration Minister and noted Home Office charmer Des Browne confirmed the story while claiming it was largely made up on BBC Radio 4's World at One today. Browne said that the Government had certified that the ID legislation was compatible with human rights law, that Goldsmith's advice was for internal use, and that there had never been any intention to publish it.
This line, however, merely confirms the Government's shameless approach to human rights in its legislation. One of the early moves of the Blair Government was to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK legislation in the Human Rights Act. This one might suppose would mean that the UK Government would be far more careful about human rights in its legislation, but instead of this it tends to be used as a kind of cloaking device. Instead of being accompanied by detailed assessments of human rights impact, UK legislation now tends to have just a one liner saying 'the provisions of this legislation are compatible with the European convention of human rights.' So, as Browne put it today, the Cabinet has advice on the impact prepared for it, and nobody else needs to see the advice because the legislation has been deemed to be compatible by the Cabinet. Trust us.
According to the Guardian, Goldsmith's advice considers whether people's rights would be infringed if they were denied access to public services, and covers access to personal details, medical records and financial data by the police, security services and other authorities. It's also broader than an assessment of privacy and human rights impact in that it would cover the strengths and weaknesses of the ID Bill.
An access request for the document by Chris Pounder, editor of Data Protection and Privacy Practice, was refused on the basis that its release "would harm the frankness and candour of internal discussion." Pounder has lodged an appeal. ®