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2005-01-26 13:54: I am a Liberal, and I am against this sort of thing

In 1951 Harry Willcock took on the police in a famous court case which paved the way for the abolition of identity cards the following year.

Willcock was stopped by the police for speeding along Ballard's Lane, Finchley. He refused to show the police his ID card, stating: 'I am a Liberal, and I am against this sort of thing.'

At the magistrate's court he argued that ID cards were now redundant, because the war time "emergency" was now over. The magistrates convicted him, but gave him an absolute discharge (zero sentence). Willcock wasn't satisfied, and appealed to the High Court.

The appeal was dismissed, but the Lord Chief Justice was sharply critical of the government.

From that decision, Lord Goddard, Willcock v. Muckle, 26 June 1951, that led to Parliament's repeal of National ID card in 1952,

"it is obvious that the police now, as a matter of routine, demand the production of national registration indemnity cards whenever they stop or interrogate a motorist for whatever cause. Of course, if they are looking for a stolen car or have reason to believe that a particular motorist is engaged in committing a crime, that is one thing, but to demand a national registration identity card from all and sundry, for instance, from a lady who may leave her car outside a shop longer than she should, or some trivial matter of that sort, is wholly unreasonable. This Act was passed for security purposes, and not for the purposes for which, apparently, it is now sought to be used. To use Acts of Parliament, passed for particular purposes during war, in times when the war is past, except that technically a state of war exists, tends to turn law-abiding subjects into lawbreakers, which is a most undesirable state of affairs. Further, in this country we have always prided ourselves on the good feeling that exists between the police and the public and such action tends to make the people resentful of the acts of the police and inclines them to obstruct the police instead of to assist them …

They ought not to use a Security Act, which was passed for a particular purpose, as they have done in this case. For these reasons, although the court dismisses the appeal, it gives no costs against the appellant."

In the House of Lords the Marquis of Reading proposed a motion, "that the use of identity cards is unnecessary and oppressive, and should be discontinued without delay." It was passed.

On 1952-02-21 the Secretary of State for Health, H. Crookshank, annoucned that the public no longer needed to carry the cards, saving the government £1M.

Harry Willcock died later that year.

Paraphrased from issue 17 of the Journal of Liberal Democrat History.

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