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Legal news from Friday, February 10, 2006

Saddam claims US offered exile in exchange for help ending insurgency
Lauren Becker on February 10, 2006 4:26 PM ET

[JURIST] Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] defense lawyer and former head of the Jordanian Lawyers Association Saleh al-Armouti said Friday that Hussein has claimed that the United States had offered him life in exile "like Napoleon" if he would use his influence to end the Iraq insurgency. Armouti said Hussein made the claim when he visited the ousted Iraqi leader in prison in January. A US military spokesman in Baghdad dismissed Armouti's report as "completely unfounded and, frankly, rather ridiculous," saying the story was a "vain attempt" by his lawyer to "make it look as if Saddam still has some power or authority over people, which he doesn't."

Armouti was one of the defense lawyers thrown out of court [JURIST report] January 29 after arguing with the new chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman. Al Arabiya TV claimed in a fall documentary that Hussein actually accepted a previous offer of exile [JURIST report] extended by the United Arab Emirates before the Iraq war, only to have that fall through when members of the League of Arab States refused to assent to the plan. AP has more.

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Federal lawsuit filed over New Orleans election plans
Jeannie Shawl on February 10, 2006 3:36 PM ET

[JURIST] The Advancement Project [advocacy website], a Washington, DC-based advocacy group, has filed a federal lawsuit challenging election plans for New Orleans [JURIST report], alleging that the plan puts too much emphasis on absentee voting and would keep blacks out of office. According to the lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release], Louisiana's emergency election plan following Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] will disenfranchise or severely burden the franchise of thousands of displaced voters, the vast majority of whom are African-American, and therefore violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act [DOJ backgrounder].

Late last month, the Louisiana legislature approved a plan to hold April elections in New Orleans city races and to distribute absentee ballots to residents still displaced by Katrina. The Advancement Project is seeking a federal court order directing Louisiana election officials to make several modifications to the plan, including setting up satellite polling places, mailing unsolicited absentee ballots to displaced persons with known addresses, and giving public notice of the elections in all states where displaced persons reside. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [advocacy website] has also indicated that it might file a court challenge against the election plans unless displaced voters are given greater consideration. AP has more.

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Environmental brief ~ California electronic waste law takes effect
Tom Henry on February 10, 2006 3:20 PM ET

[JURIST] Leading Friday's environmental law news, a California law that makes it illegal to throw away electronic waste went into effect Thursday. Under the law [CIWMB backgrounder], residents will have to take most consumer electronic equipment, including computers, printers, VCRs, microwave ovens, fluorescent lighting, glass thermometers, old thermostats and batteries, to local household hazardous waste collection centers for recycling, storage or disposal. The collection centers are being funded through an additional state sales tax [CIWMB backgrounder] on new consumer electronic items [backgrounder]. Mercury News has more.

In other environmental law news...

  • The US Environmental Protection Agency [official website] warned the state of Michigan Thursday that it had missed an April 2005 deadline to finalize a plan for requiring industrial plants to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. A Michigan Department of Environmental Quality [official website] spokesman says the plan should be done within a few months. The EPA warned that if the state does not finalize its plan, the EPA will impose its own cleanup plan, in accordance with the Clean Air Act [text]. The Lansing State Journal has more.

  • Unnamed Ugandan government officials have dismissed allegations that the government is violating an international water use agreement by withdrawing more water from Lake Victoria for use by the Nalubaale and Kiira hydro-electric power plants than allowed. The allegations [PDF text; backgrounder], reported by the International Rivers Network [advocacy website], claim Uganda has used 55 percent more water in the past two years than it should have, resulting in a 45 centimeter decrease in the lake level. The Ugandan officials blame the water drop to a regional drought. BBC News has more.

  • The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) [official website] wants to spray nearly 932,000 acres of land in 17 states annually with herbicides to kill cheatgrass and other non-native weeds. The public comment period for the proposed action [PDF backgrounder] ends today [press release], and the BLM could reach a decision on the program by this summer. The BLM plans to use different methods to get rid of the weeds on 5 million other acres, including prescribed burning, pulling and tilling, and releasing insects that feed on the plants. The BLM oversees 261 million acres of surface land. USA Today has more.

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Hong Kong judge rules covert surveillance law unconstitutional
Lauren Becker on February 10, 2006 3:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Hong Kong High Court Justice Michael Hartmann has ruled [decision text, in English] that an executive order on covert surveillance operations made last year by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen [official profile] is unconstitutional. Instead of immediately repealing it, however, he gave the government six months to replace it, declaring that having no law regarding covert surveillance would leave a dangerous "legal vacuum" and would "constitute a real threat to the rule of law" itself. The controversial Law Enforcement (Covert Surveillance Procedure) Order was issued [Tsang remarks] by the Chief Executive in August 2005 and was immediately criticized [PDF] by the Hong Kong Bar Association as asserting a power to authorize covert surveillance of citizens and infringe their fundamental rights when only a law can could do that.

Hartmann Thursday also ruled unconstitutional a law that allowed phone-tapping by authorities because the ordinance was inconsistent with Basic Law [text and background] Articles 30 and 39, which guarantee the right to free and private communication. Opponents of Hartmann's ruling claim the suspension of the executive order leaves much uncertainty and that there is no guarantee there will be a replacement law within six months. Asia Media has more.

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Media magnate Black seeks speedy trial on fraud charges
Lauren Becker on February 10, 2006 2:42 PM ET

[JURIST] Conrad Black [JURIST news archive], former chairman of media company Hollinger International [corporate website], told a US federal judge in Chicago Friday that he would prefer to have a trial soon. Black appeared at a court hearing held to assess the progress of the case against him. In December he pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to criminal charges [JURIST report] of fraud and racketeering, as well as obstruction of justice for destroying documents. Accusations against him include looting and misuse of company perks at Hollinger, a Chicago-based newspaper publisher with parent company in Toronto.

Black's trial, which will include associates and a holding company as co-defendants, is tentatively set to begin March 5, 2007, but the complex nature of the case may cause delays. At Friday's hearing the Canadian-born Black, now a British citizen and a member of the House of Lords, also expressed his frustration at a subpoena, now withdrawn, blocking his access to documents and personal items left in his office at Hollinger in Toronto. Reuters has more.

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Muhammad cartoons banned in Malaysia as protests continue
Bernard Hibbitts on February 10, 2006 1:29 PM ET

[JURIST] The government of mainly-Muslim Malaysia has imposed a blanket ban on the controversial caricatures of Muhammad [JURIST news archive], making it an offense to publish, import, produce, manufacture, circulate, distribute or even possess the cartoons originally printed in a Danish newspaper in September and since republished in newspapers around the world. The Malaysian ban is believed to be the first specific national prohibition of the cartoons by a government, and the first ban to extend to simple possession. Last week a South African court barred the publication of the cartoons [IRIN report] by newspapers in that country; editors there have said they will appeal. The Malaysian directive was accompanied by an order from Internal Security Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that the publishing license of the Sarawak Tribune [media website], an English language newspaper that republished the cartoons last week, be suspended indefinitely [Berama report]. Its editor faces three years imprisonment or a RM20,000 fine or both under the terms of Malaysia's Printing Presses & Publication Act. Malaysia currently heads the Organization of the Islamic Conference [official website] and the republication of the cartoons by a Malaysia media outlet is said to have caused the government some embarrassment. Malaysian officials are also reported to be concerned about exacerbating tensions between Malaysia's Muslim and non-Muslim populations. From Malaysia, the New Straits Times has local coverage. On Friday, more than 12,000 Malaysian Muslims marched on the Danish embassy in Kuala Lumpur [Bernama report] to protest the cartoons.

In a related development in neighboring Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, authorities Thursday arrested the editor of the tabloid publication PETA for republishing the cartoons there. A report in the Jakarta Post has suggested that Imam Tri Karso Hadi may be charged under Article 156 of the Criminal Code on Religious Blasphemy, which could lead to up to five years imprisonment. Reuters has more.

10:25 PM ET - Indonesian police have said they have now charged PETA editor Imam Tri Karso Hadi under the blasphemy statute. AFP has more.

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Ex-president Preval leads Haiti election results
Krista-Ann Staley on February 10, 2006 1:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Initial results from the February 7 presidential election [JURIST report; BBC backgrounder] in Haiti indicate that Rene Preval [BBC profile; Wikipedia profile], a former president and ally of ousted leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] has won with over 60 percent of the vote. If the current results are certified the simple majority of votes for Preval will circumvent the need for a second-round vote in March. Leslie Manigat [BBC backgrounder; Wikipedia profile], also a former president, currently trails Preval with 13.4 percent of the vote. Charles Baker [BBC backgrounder; Wikipedia profile], representing voters opposed to Aristide, has 6.1 percent.

The election marks the first national vote since Aristide was ousted from power [JURIST report] two years ago. Preval has distanced himself [AP report] from Aristide's Lavalas Family Party [party website, in French] by voicing support for the UN peacekeeping force in place throughout the Caribbean nation, but has also said that he would not oppose Aristide's return from South Africa. Reuters has more.

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Iraq election chief certifies parliamentary vote results
Krista-Ann Staley on February 10, 2006 12:17 PM ET

[JURIST] Iraq's election chief on Friday announced certified results in the December 15 parliamentary elections [JURIST news archive], confirming results announced [JURIST report] by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) [official website] last month. Of the 275 seats, 128 now belong to the United Iraqi Alliance [BBC profile], the dominant Shiite coalition; 44 belong to the Iraqi Accord Front [BBC profile] and 11 to the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue [BBC profile], both Sunni Arab blocs; 53 to the Kurdistan Alliance [BBC profile]; 25 to the secular Kurdistan Islamic Union [BBC profile]; and 9 to remaining parties.

While the Iraqi constitution [JURIST news archive; JURIST document] requires the parliament to meet 15 days after certification to elect a speaker and president, officials have already announced that they will not adhere to this deadline [JURIST report]. BBC News has more.

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Japan PM scraps female royal succession plan
Krystal MacIntyre on February 10, 2006 11:30 AM ET

[JURIST] Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi [official profile] has decided not to submit a bill to parliament that would allow women to succeed to the throne, Japanese media reported Friday. Koizumi had supported a proposal [JURIST report] that would change the country's male-only succession law, the 1947 Imperial Household Law [text], to allow female monarchs, but cooled his support [JURIST report] earlier this week after it was made public that Princess Kiko is pregnant. No male heir has been born in the royal family for over 40 years.

Although public opinion favored the change, Koizumi faced strong opposition from conservative lawmakers, mostly from his own Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) [party website]. Opponents of the bill have strongly recommended waiting to see if the baby is a boy before introducing the change. Princess Kiko, the wife of the emperor's second son Prince Akishino, is due in September or October. Reuters has more.

Previously in JURIST's Paper Chase...

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Senators propose overhaul of asbestos fund bill
Krystal MacIntyre on February 10, 2006 10:54 AM ET

[JURIST] US Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) [official website] and 14 other Republican senators have introduced a proposal that would rewrite an asbestos bill to allow asbestos-related lawsuits only under strict medical criteria, rather than establishing a $140 billion fund [JURIST report] for all victims. Cornyn introduced the plan as an amendment to the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act [PDF text; bill summary], which is currently being debated in the Senate [JURIST report]. The original version, sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website], would require asbestos companies and insurers to provide a fund for asbestos-related lawsuits, but the proposal does not have widespread support.

Senators from both parties have voiced concerns that the fund may quickly run dry unless strict medical criteria for lawsuits is imposed and the White House has expressed 'serious concerns' [PDF statement; JURIST report] over parts of the bill. The Coalition for Asbestos Reform [advocacy website], an interest group concerned with fair asbestos litigation, has urged Senators to vote for Cornyn's amendment [press release] calling Specter and Leahy's trust fund approach "fatally flawed." Reuters has more.

 Topic: Asbestos | Video: Asbestos compensation legislation [AEI]

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AWB executive resigns amidst Australia oil-for-food inquiry
Krystal MacIntyre on February 10, 2006 10:19 AM ET

[JURIST] Andrew Lindberg [corporate profile], chief executive of the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) [corporate website], has stepped down from his position as the Australian judicial inquiry [Cole Commission website] continues its fourth week of investigations into alleged Australian connections to the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal [JURIST news archive]. Lindberg has given up all responsibility within the company, and will officially resign on April 30.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard [official profile] ordered the inquiry after a United Nations report named AWB and some 2000 other companies among those which paid kickbacks to the Hussein regime [JURIST report] in Iraq. The UN report said that AWB paid more than any other company, allegedly paying out $220 million to secure $2.3 billion in contracts. AWB executives maintain that they were unaware of any illegal activity, claiming that they believed the money was used to cover the costs of transporting wheat. AFP has more.

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EEOC reports decrease in employment discrimination complaints
Asha Puttaiah on February 10, 2006 9:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The number of discrimination charges against private employers filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [official website] declined by five percent in 2005 [press release], the third straight year the number of complaints fell. EEOC officials point to several factors as potential causes of the decrease, including the EEOC's outreach and prevention efforts as well as a general economic slowdown. Of the 75,428 complaints filed with the EEOC in 2005 [charge statistics], 35.5 percent covered allegations of racial discrimination and 30.6 percent were based on alleged sex discrimination. The agency resolved 77,352 complaints in 2005; 21.5 percent of those outcomes were in favor of the complainant, a higher percentage than in years past.

The EEOC is charged with enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws [EEOC materials] among private employers. The US Department of Justice enforces the federal anti-discrimination statutes for government workers. AP has more.

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International brief ~ Zimbabwe minister says all white-run farms illegal
D. Wes Rist on February 10, 2006 9:26 AM ET

[JURIST] Leading Friday's international brief, Zimbabwe Lands Minister Didymus Mutasa has told reporters that following controversial constitutional reforms [JURIST report] that took effect last year, there are no longer any white farmers operating legally in Zimbabwe. Mutasa said on state television late Thursday that all farmland is now owned by the state and any farmer must have government permission to farm. Mutasa also said that no white farmers had yet applied to his office for that permission and encouraged those still operating to obtain permission quickly before criminal sanctions were used. Zimbabwe has descended into an ever-increasing food crisis since it began its mandatory land reform program six years ago under Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile]. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive]. South Africa's Mail & Guardian Online has local coverage.

In other international legal news ...

  • UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan [official profile] has told reporters that he will push for US President George W. Bush [official profile] to commit US troops and equipment to the UN peacekeeping force [JURIST report] proposed for the Darfur region [JURIST news archive] of Sudan [government website]. Annan said that maintaining peace and security in the war-torn region would require more than just talk from larger nations, and specifically indicated that he will be asking Bush to commit troops and equipment to the mission when the two meet to discuss Sudan and other issues on Monday. Read the official transcript of Annan's remarks. JURIST's Paper Chase has continuing coverage of the United Nations [JURIST news archive]. The Sudan Tribune has local coverage.

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Air Force relaxes guidelines on religious expression
Asha Puttaiah on February 10, 2006 8:36 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Air Force [official website] on Thursday released revised interim guidelines [PDF text; press release] concerning the free exercise of religion in the Air Force which remove several restrictions on the promotion of religious beliefs. The revised guidelines, endorsed by the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces [official website], remove a warning for top officers about promoting personal religious views and also eliminate a call for chaplains to "respect the rights of other to their own religious beliefs."

The first version of the religious guidelines [PDF text; press release] was issued in August in response to a lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by a US Air Force Academy [official website] graduate alleging that senior academy officials illegally forced Christianity upon him. The guidelines were revised in response to feedback from the public, Congress and advocacy groups, including conservative Christians who had argued that the initial guidelines were too strict. AP has more.

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Cambodian opposition leader returns from exile after royal pardon
Asha Puttaiah on February 10, 2006 8:06 AM ET

[JURIST] After receiving a royal pardon, Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy [BBC profile; party website] returned home to Cambodia Friday after a year of self-imposed exile in France. Sam Rainsy had fled to France after his parliamentary immunity was revoked [JURIST report] for accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile] of trying to kill him in 1997. He also accused Prince Norodom Ranariddh [BBC profile], the president of the Cambodian National Assembly [official website] and the premier's junior coalition partner, of taking bribes. The opposition leader had been sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison.

Sam Rainsy said late last year that he would seek a royal pardon [JURIST report] and Hun Sen later agreed to petition King Norodom Sihanouk [official website] on his rival's behalf. The king granted the pardon [BBC report] last week. Reuters has more.

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Senate approval of long-term Patriot Act renewal now likely
Jeannie Shawl on February 10, 2006 7:58 AM ET

[JURIST] A long-term renewal of the USA Patriot Act [PDF text; JURIST news archive] now seems likely as four key Republican senators who had been holding out on approving an extension have reached an agreement [JURIST report] with the White House. Sixteen key provisions [DOJ report, PDF] of the Patriot Act were set to expire at the end of last year, but members of Congress were unable to reach an agreement [JURIST report] on a long-term extension before Christmas and instead have passed two short-term extensions [JURIST report] keeping the provisions in force until March 10. The US House of Representatives and the White House had backed the renewal proposal in December's conference report [PDF text], but Senate Democrats, joined by the four Republicans, refused to agree, calling for more civil liberties protections to be incorporated into the renewal.

Under the compromise agreement [PDF summary; press release], recipients of Section 215 subpoenas for information in terror investigations would be able to challenge the accompanying gag order; people who receive National Security Letters (NSL) [sample text, PDF; ACLU backgrounder] would no longer be required to provide the FBI the names of lawyers consulted about the NSL; and current law would be clarified to ensure that libraries functioning in their traditional roles would not be subject to NSLs. Several Senate Democrats have also agreed to back the compromise, though other Democrats insist that the agreement includes only minor changes to the conference report and falls short on protecting freedoms [Sen. Feingold (D-MI) press release]. Friday's Washington Post has more.

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Libby to grand jury: 'superiors' authorized leaks of classified information
Asha Puttaiah on February 10, 2006 7:22 AM ET

[JURIST] Court documents filed by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald [official website] in the CIA leak case [JURIST news archive] show that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby [CBS profile], Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, testified to a federal grand jury that he was authorized by superiors to leak information contained in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) [Wikipedia backgrounder; definition] to reporters in the summer of 2003. NIEs are prepared to inform high-level government officials of the vulnerabilities, capabilities and probable courses of action of foreign countries. Contents of NIE reports are sometimes declassified and made public, though it is unclear whether that happened in this instance. also told Libby's defense lawyers that he would seek to introduce Libby's grand jury testimony that he caused at least one other official to discuss NIE information with reporters.

has been charged [PDF indictment; JURIST report] with obstruction of justice, making a false statement and perjury in connection with the investigation into the of former CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. He pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the charges last November and will go to trial in 2007 [JURIST report]. Libby is not charged with the leaking the contents of an NIE report and his lawyers have denied speculation that Libby will try to shift blame to his superiors as part of his defense. AP has more.

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Georgia voter ID law challenge sent back to lower court
Cathy J. Potter on February 10, 2006 5:14 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Thursday instructed a lower court to reconsider a challenge to Georgia's controversial voter ID law [PDF text] that required voters to show government-issued photo identification before casting their ballots, but left in place an injunction [PDF text; JURIST report] barring the law's enforcement. The three-judge panel instructed the lower court to reconsider the case in light of a new version of the law [SB 84 text, PDF], passed [JURIST report] by the Georgia state legislature [official website] last month.

Last October, the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia granted the injunction, finding that there was a substantial likelihood that the plaintiffs would succeed on their claims that the voter ID law functions like a poll tax, and goes beyond what is necessary to prevent voter fraud. In response, Georgia lawmakers passed a revised version of the bill which provides free photo IDs to anyone requiring them, waiving the normal $35 fee. Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue [official website] signed the bill, but it will not take effect until it has been approved by the US Department of Justice, as is required under the 1965 Voting Rights Act [DOJ backgrounder] for all changes in voting requirements in states with a history of suppressing minority votes. AP has more.

Previously in JURIST's Paper Chase...

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Belgium set to ratify European Constitution
Angela Onikepe on February 10, 2006 4:55 AM ET

[JURIST Europe] Belgium is set to become the fourteenth European Union country to ratify the European Constitution [official text; JURIST news archive] following its approval by the lower house of the Flemish Parliament [government website in Flemish]. The constitutional treaty was approved Wednesday by a majority of 84 to 29.

Approval by Belgium is viewed as a much needed boost for the Constitution after it stalled following French and Dutch rejection [BBC report] of the constitution last year in national referendums. Ratification faces one more local obstacle, however, as Flemish Prime Minister Yves Leterme [official profile] has stated that his government will endorse the Flemish parliamentary vote only if the application of the subsidiarity ('early warning') clause of the Constitution is made clear. The clause mandates that if at least a third of national parliaments provide a 'reasoned opinion' that a legislative proposal is not in line with the European Commission's mandate, the Commission must review the act. The Constitution can only take overall effect if 25 countries ratify it either by parliamentary vote or by referendum. Several European governments have recently suggested that they would like to resurrect the regional charter [JURIST report]. EUobserver has more.

Angela Onikepe is an Associate Editor for JURIST Europe, reporting European legal news from a European perspective. She is based in the UK.

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UK Home Secretary backtracks on compulsory national IDs
Angela Onikepe on February 10, 2006 2:25 AM ET

[JURIST Europe] In an apparent political climbdown, UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke [official profile] has approved publication of proposed amendments to the controversial British Identity Cards Bill [official PDF text] that would require another Act of Parliament be passed to make the cards mandatory. The bill currently requires that anyone obtaining a British passport from 2008 onward also receive an ID card, putting their biometric data, including an iris scan and fingerprints, on record at a national database. The original bill faced strong opposition [BBC report] from some Tory, Liberal Democrat and even Labour MPs, who saw the scheme as an expensive and unnecessary intrusion into personal liberty and have been adamant in their goal to make sure the scheme remains voluntary. The government only narrowly won a preliminary vote [JURIST report] on the measure in June. British Prime Minister Tony Blair [official profile], who first introduced the ID card plan [JURIST report] last May, is slated to defend the issuance of national identity cards at the Labor spring conference on Friday. The bill was originally introduced to combat illegal immigration, terrorism, organized crime, and identity theft. The Independent has local coverage.

Angela Onikepe is an Associate Editor for JURIST Europe, reporting European legal news from a European perspective. She is based in the UK.

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For more legal news check the Paper Chase Archive...


Unprecedented Notice of Warrantless Wiretapping in a Closed Case
Ramzi Kassem
CUNY School of Law

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