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History of ID Cards in the United Kingdom

Publication date: 
01-Jan-1997

During World War II, a national ID card was established to facilitate identification of aliens. Persons were required to carry the card at all times and show it on demand to police and members of the armed forces. In 1951, Acting Lord Chief Justice, Lord Goddard ruled that police demanding that individuals show their ID cards was unlawful because it was not relevant to the purposes for which the card was adopted. This ruling led the the repealing of the National Registration Act and the end of the national ID card in the UK in 1952.

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."

Since that time, there have been numerous attempts by the government to reintroduce the card. The purposes for the card have varied, from tax administration, immigration, and drivers licenses to football hooliganism. For instance, in 1989 there was a debate in the Commons on a bill.

In 1995, when Prime Minister John Major issued a consultation paper. There was considerable public and Cabinet opposition. The proposal was quietly set aside in 1996.