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100 years ago: Civil liberty under attack

26 March 2021

March 24th, 1921.

THE Times of Monday and some of the other papers drew public attention to an astonishing measure, entitled the Tribunals of Enquiry (Evidence) Bill, which has already passed the House of Commons and some of its stages in the House of Lords. A great many of our liberties were restricted during the war, and the restrictions were accepted as necessary precautions. But the continued attempts of the Government to deprive us of liberties hardly won and greatly prized are a matter for alarm. There can be no doubt that Parliament is losing something of its prestige and supremacy, and its function is becoming more and more the registering of Government decisions. This particular measure provides for the setting up of tribunals, with the power to compel the attendance of witnesses and the disclosure of documents, without even allowing the right of persons affected to be represented legally or even to be present at all, and giving, further, to any single member of the tribunal the power to commit to prison any citizen after secret deliberation. Well may such a measure be described as a revival of Star Chamber. The iniquity of it is that no appeal is provided to King’s Bench. In fact, age-old liberties are threatened with extinction. How the House of Commons came to pass such a measure we cannot imagine, but now that attention has been so prominently drawn to it, we trust the House of Lords will adhere to its insistence on necessary safeguards. To plead that it is necessary to rebut Bolshevik or other inconvenient agitation is entirely beside the point.

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