NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.
Lord Denning described the Magna Carta as ‘the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot’.
David Cameron sends out e-mail invitations to an 800th anniversary reception describing it as the ‘Magna Carter’. Then insists that British children (that’s Iqbal and Abdullah to you and me) should be taught what it means. Or at least how to spell it.
This ‘greatest constitutional document of all times’ stood proud and undiluted for six centuries until the Offences against the Person Act 1828 repealed Clause 26. Successive governments ripped away all but three sections of the charter over the next 140 years. It is a moot point as to whether any of the original protection against the excesses of the Crown remain since the Human Rights Act, by which Blair’s government imposed the supremacy of the European judiciary. Critically, the Act arrogated to Government and to Government alone, the power to determine what constituted a ‘right’. And therefore also the power to suspend or abolish those rights.
NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned – Tell that to fellow blogger Graham Mitchell. I wrote of his extraordinary battle to get out of prison after the Portuguese government insisted that Britain jail him for a ‘murder’ that allegedly took place 20 years ago – eventually I discovered the murder victim alive and well, playing championship basketball in Germany! Tell that to Stephen Neary. I wrote of his battle to escape the draconian arm of the state as his Father tried to retrieve his son from the ‘positive behaviour unit’ where he had been imprisoned for over a year under the Deprivation of Liberty clauses in the Mental Capacity Act. Eventually that case led to the slight chink of sunlight that currently falls over the Court of Protection – something the Independent newspaper was snide enough to claim credit for – Grrr!
So much for Habeas Corpus.
Or be disseised of his Freehold…unlesse it be by the lawfull judgment – That one bit the dust last week. Read on Macduff.
Last Thursday royal assent was granted to the Finance Act 2014, which gives HMRC the right to impose ‘accelerated payments’: what this means is that if there is an unresolved tax dispute, the individual will now be compelled to pay up the entire amount claimed by the state, even before the case has been heard by a tribunal.
One of the first casualties was Andrew Mitchell. A man who has already had his reputation ‘stolen’ by that arm of the state known as the ‘media’.
Back in 2005 the Labour Government announced tax breaks for British films. The government said that previous legislation on film tax relief was vulnerable to abuse.
In September 2009, the UK Treasury released new figures which claimed to demonstrate the success of the new tax relief scheme.
Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Stephen Timms, said: “The government is committed to supporting the British film industry and the important role it plays in our economy. Today’s figures are excellent news for the industry, highlighting the success of the UK’s film tax relief which is helping to stimulate investment in domestic film production. Film tax relief will continue to provide valuable assistance to this vibrant sector over the coming years.”
Now, following the success of the ousted Labour government in persuading the media to highlight alleged unfair tax avoidance by large corporations, the Coalition government has brought in a measure by which it can retrospectively decide that you, the man in the street, have ‘unfairly avoided tax’ (i.e. followed the advice of a previous government) and demand that you pay up before discussing the matter. Even Lord Waldegrave, the former chief secretary to the Treasury, has found himself labelled a ‘tax avoider’ for investing in the same ‘stimulation of domestic film production’ that they were encouraged to support by Labour.
That is bad enough – but at least these are only demands for payment. They are hitting wealthy investors – and wealthy investors are like celebrity comedians, nobody minds the law being bent to see them in prison. Wait for the next bit.
George Osborne announced a proposed new system during the 2014 Budget that would allow HMRC to seize assets from anyone that owes more than £1,000 in tax or tax credits. That in itself isn’t really anything new, HMRC can already seize property or cash if they go through the Courts, but these changes would allow HMRC to simply take money from a taxpayer’s bank account with no Court approval!
Frank Haskew, head of the tax faculty at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, says “it is a fundamental tenet of our English law and our democratic society that money cannot be grabbed from somebody’s account without a judge agreeing to the move”. He said the change, which could come into force in just 12 months’ time, would be “unprecedented in the UK”.
We live in dangerous times – you can be thrown into jail on the basis of untrue evidence from a foreign government; be locked up for a year because a care worker says you tapped her on the shoulder to attract her attention; loose your reputation because of the mass publicity of an unproven allegation; have your estate plundered because of more unproven allegations (allegations initiated from the very heart of Magna Carta country); be expected to repay disputed tax bills before appealing – and now the taxman will just ‘take the money anyway’.
It is not just the ‘rich and famous’ who will be subject to these latest moves – but all of us. Every last one of us.
In any other country, the site of the signing of the Magna Carta would be a national monument.