--> Gill Blog: Civil Contingencies Bill a Patriot Act too, in the UK

Gill Blog

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Civil Contingencies Bill a Patriot Act too, in the UK

Eschewing the patriotic rhetoric of the USA Patriot Act, the British have tabled their own emergency preparedness legislation called the Civil Contingencies Bill. Sounds fair and balanced, doesn't it? The Prime Minister's Office, Number 10 Downing Street, announced the legislation on January 7, 2004 in these terms:
The Civil Contingencies Bill is an important element of the Government's work to enhance the resilience of the United Kingdom to disruptive challenges. We have worked very hard with practitioners to get this bill right, and I am confident that we have achieved the right balance.
Typically British, the language speaks of national resilience; stiff upper lip and all that, chaps. Notably absent is any talk of patriotism as a justification for emergency measures. The Blair government talks of "hard work" and "getting it right" and "achieving the right balance." However, many in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are concerned about the sweeping powers that can be assumed by Number 10 unilaterally declaring an "emergency" even though that definition has been modified in the latest Bill.

The Civil Contingencies Bill has sparked controversy throughout the United Kingdom since the draft provisions were first introduced. Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:
The concessions made by the government in no way change the fundamental objections to this Bill. The powers available to the government and state agencies would be truly draconian. Cities could be sealed off, travel bans introduced, all phones cut off, and websites shut down. Demonstrations could be banned and the news media be made subject to censorship. New offences against the state could be "created" by government decree. This is Britain's Patriot Act, at a stroke democracy could be replaced by totalitarianism.
The reaction in the national press is equally concerned. The Independent headlines a "Scared New World" and the Guardian sums up the comments in the press, pro and con. The Evening Standard sounds the alarm that, "The Civil Contingencies Bill is one of the most sweeping pieces of emergency legislation ever framed in Britain and will give ministers more power than ever before."
If approved by Parliament, the Bill would mean that a repeat of the September 11 attacks in Britain would be dealt with in a radically different way from the approach taken by authorities in New York.

That city's mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, had to use his normal powers to deal with the attack - but in Britain police could order people to leave the zone affected at gunpoint, and take over the public transport system to get them out.

They could also set up an exclusion zone around the target site for an unlimited time, and shoot anyone trying to approach it.

The arrest and detention of suspects could be carried out without the normal limitation of needing reasonable grounds of suspicion to bring charges.


Last autumn senior judges warned their independence was under threat and England's second most senior judge, Lord Justice Judge, said: "There are nasty people out there and there is no guarantee that because we are Great Britain none of them will ever, ever come to power."
At the same time, as civil libertarians discuss concerns about the impact of this Bill on private rights, business continuity experts are assessing the impact of this sweeping legislation on private industry and commerce. Robin Gaddum, a senior consultant with IBM Global Services in the UK, comments on the implications of the Civil Contingencies Bill for British businesses. Discussing the essential differences between Business Continuity Management and Emergency Management, which is ostensibly the purview of the new legislation, he writes:
What are the real differences between the two disciplines? Business continuity is organisation-centric. In other words, it arises within an organisation and is concerned with the continued survival and prosperity of that organisation alone. In this respect, it tends to be more internally than externally focussed, tackling disasters that directly affect its own operations. Emergency management is more community-centric, sitting most naturally in the public sector and straying into the voluntary sector -- it tends to be more externally focussed tackling incidents that impact, or could impact, upon the wider community.
Gaddum says the Civil Contingencies Bill "should stimulate business continuity managers to broaden the scope of their plans, which in the UK are traditionally focussed upon relatively small-scale disasters affecting an organisation's site and its immediate surroundings." It will be interesting to monitor the reactions of specific sectors of private industry and business.

Gill Advisors will continue to follow the debate, amendments and passage of this significant legislation, and relate this to similar enactments in the USA and Canada. As we noted in a post below on December 16, Canada includes in its new Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness the responsibilities for Health Safety, which has not yet been included in the responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security under the Patriot Act. Similarly in the UK, the NHS received new virus and terrorism guidance on January 7, coincidental with the announcement of the Civil Contingencies Bill.

Please join the discussion about the Civil Contingencies Bill.


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