Statewatch article: RefNo# 25671
The Civil Contingencies Bill - Britainís Patriot Act
Statewatch Bulletin; vol 13 no 6 November-December 2003
Cities could be sealed off, travel bans introduced and all telecommunications cut off. Protests could be banned and new offences created by government decree. Democracy could be replaced by authoritarian rule

The government has published a draft Civil Contingencies Bill which would repeal the Emergency Powers Acts of 1920 and 1964, the Emergency Powers Act (Northern Ireland) 1926, the Civil Defence Act 1948 and the Civil Protection in Peacetime Act 1986. The main Act being replaced is the 1920 Emergency Powers Act (EPA 1920).

The Bill

The scope of the Bill goes well beyond that of the 1920 Act which is concerned solely with:

the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel, or light, or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of the essentials of life

The new Bill does include the "essentials of life" for the population (Art 17.1.a) but massively extends the scope under Article 17.1 to also include:

(c) the political, administrative or economic stability of the United Kingdom or of a Part or region or (d) the security of the United Kingdom or a Part or region

Article 17.1.c. is defined in Article 17.4 as covering the "activities of Her Majesty's government", "the performance of public functions" and "the activities of banks and other financial institutions".

The Bill has two Parts, Part 1 covers "local arrangements for civil protection" and Part 2 is an entirely new proposal which would protect the state, government, financial companies in times of crisis or emergency.

The scope of Regulations and orders may concern a specified area (eg: geographical, such as a region or city) and the event or situation triggering an emergency: "may occur or be inside or outside England and Wales". Scotland and Northern Ireland would be required to adopt a similar measures.

Part 1: Local arrangements for civil protection

The meaning of an "emergency" is defined in Part 1 as an "event" or "situation" presenting a "serious threat" to: "human welfare" (1.1.a), the environment (1.1.b), the "political, administrative or economic stability of a place" (1.1.c) or "the security of a place" (1.1.d). "Human welfare" is defined to cover most aspects covered in the 1920 EPA but is extended to "electronic or other systems of communication" and "educational or other essential services". A Minister can by order lay duties and functions on those listed in Part 1 Schedule 1, known as "Category 1 Responders". These are: all county councils, district councils, London boroughs, City of London, Welsh county and borough councils plus police Chief Constables, fire services, National Health Trusts, ambulance services and the Environment Agency. "Category 2 Responders" cover the supply of electricity, gas and water, railways, airports, harbours and telecommunications services.

Common definitions in Part 1 and 2

A " threat to political, administrative or economic stability" is defined in 1.4., "if, in particular, it causes or may cause disruption of": (a) the activities of Her Majesty's government, (b) the performance of public functions, (c) the activities of banks or other financial institutions. The use of the term "in particular" suggest that what follows is only illustrative and not exclusive. The term "disruption" is a much lower standard than that in clause 1 which says an emergency must present a "serious threat" (similarly the term "threat" rather than "serious threat" is used in relation to "human welfare" (1.2) and the environment (1.3).

A "public function" (1.4.b) covers all state and government functions set out in law and those "holding office under the Crown" (eg: the police and military). The power to make "regulations" and "orders" (defining roles, powers and obligations) is vested in a government Minister by means of "statutory instruments" (13.1) (Statutory Instruments Act 1948).

Part 2: Emergency pow

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