Review of Human Rights Act

“A commission is to be set up to review the Human Rights Act, as two terror suspects are allowed to stay in the UK” reads the headline on the BBC’s homepage.

Two suspected al-Qaeda terrorists appealed against extradition to Pakistan, on the grounds that they would likely be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Their appeals were upheld, because it is a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights to extradite someone to a country where they may face torture or inhuman treatment (see the judgment in Soering v United Kingdom).

The headline implies that these two suspected terrorists have been allowed to go free in the UK, when actually they will remain in prison (with one on bail in a secret location). The emphasis is on suspected, because one of the cases was thrown out due to lack of evidence, and in any case neither are convicted of terrorist offences. (The evidence against them was heard by a judge in closed court, and was not made available to the defendants or their lawyers – possibly another violation, this time of article 6, the right to a fair trial).

On the back of this, the coalition government has announced that a commission has been set up to review the Human Rights Act, something the Tories have threatened to repeal for a long time but the Liberal Democrats oppose.

This act enshrines principles of the ECHR in domestic law, and ensures that people in the UK can defend their rights in a domestic court, instead of having to go all the way to Europe.

It is of course possible, as was pointed out to me by Amnesty’s Director Patrick Corrigan, that this review commission is a way for the Tories to discharge this part of their manifesto while keeping their coalition happy and in tact, because a review is, admittedly, not the same thing as repeal (at this stage).

Shami Chakrabati, director of the human rights NGO Liberty, said, “It’s no surprise that on the day that this issue about deporting a terror suspect comes up that people start wobbling over the Human Rights Act.

“But here’s the thing – sending people to torture is not just unlawful, it’s wrong.”

The HRA protects your rights from the government, and we must all be vigilant that the government doesn’t use fear of terrorism to curtail civil liberties bit by bit.

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  • SammyMehaffey

    Political correctness gone mad again. let them take their chances in Pakistan and send Shami Chackyour hand off with them.

  • joeCanuck

    I have no problem with sending convicted people back to take their chances. What consideration do they give to our right to live free from terror?

  • halfer

    You see SammyMehaffey, people like you are the ones who are ruining the integrity of the debate on Slugger.

    Rather than playing the ball and dealing with the issues and questions raised by this blog, you bring your own ball. A ball of racist puerile statements. Shami Chakyour hand off? What is that supposed to mean?

    And Joe Canuck, maybe you don’t realise that human rights (under recognised human rights legislation) are universal and apply to all even those convicted of violence or planning to commit violence.

  • joeCanuck

    Yes halfer, but sometimes there happen to be conflicting “rights”. How do you propose “splitting the baby”?

  • halfer

    By sentencing those who commit violent offences to a punishment within the parameters of existing human rights legislation and not send them off to a country where they are certain to suffer torture and other degrading treatment.

    You either agree to the rule of human rights law or you don’t Joe. There is no splitting of hairs. To do so has supremacist connotations.

  • Neil

    If convicted they should be given a choice. A long (maximum under terrorism legislation) spell in prison or a flight back to the motherland. But I would take exception at the idea that one of these individuals, bent on murder even now, would be released due to prosecution cock up, thereby protecting his right to life while compromising the same rights of multiple other citizens.

  • Neil

    Unfortunately the case fell apart while statements are out there from the Judge saying one individual is still a risk to society. I suppose we wait til they kill a rake of people, then blame the prosecution service when it comes time to clean up the mess.

  • Critical Alien

    Part of the problem for many in digesting cases such as these is the relation of law and morality to pragmatism. It’s clear in law no-one can be sent somewhere they may be tortured. At best, it’s morally highly problematic to sanction torture, even in cases of dire emergency where it might yield valuable outcomes, for instance. But in cases like these the feeling is that some third thing counts more than either law or morality -something pragmatic- that allows certain actions to somehow strip individuals of their legal and moral standing. Some acts or intentions make people inhuman, and ‘we’ are allowed to treat them as we please.

    That seems a position many people are happy to countenance even though the moral sanction of torture might sit ill with them. Moreover, even in a world where miscarriages of justice occur frequently, and where people treat stories about ‘the accused’ as if they were convicted, this position is felt to be permissable despite the obvious pragmatic difficulties that could arise for its adherents should they be wrongly accused or convicted.

    It’s probably a good thing that there are learned professionals dealing with such cases otherwise things could be worse for us all. Most people don’t know what they’re on about, or what it means to profess what they think they know.

  • joeCanuck

    Me a supremacist? Hardly.
    You still haven’t answered as to what to do about my right to live free from terror, murder even.
    We have murderers fleeing from death penalty states in the US to Canada because Canada will not extradite someone who may face execution. We deal with that by getting an assurance from the US that such people will not face a capital charge. Then we ship them off.
    The same could be tried with countries such as Pakistan. Receive an assurance that the accused will not be tortured.

  • Cynic

    Why not just derogate from ECHR and introduce Internment? The Convention recognises that in some circumstances States have that right

  • Brian Walker

    This morning Nick Clegg said the commission “would incorporate all the obligations of the European Convention of Human Rights.. which will be enshrined in Britiish legislation.” Justice secretary Ken Clarke – who once called the British bill of rights proposal “xenophobic and legal nonsense” – appeared to seal its fate. Clarke said last week that a bill of rights was not a high priority.
    What Dominic Griece as shadow justice secretary ( now UK Attorney General) wanted to achieve was to encourage British courts to take less note of continental law and cases whIch take account of their history of internal oppression, which the UK ( or I should say, GB) doesn’t share.

    Both Labour and the Conservatives were irritated by the courts’ approach to control orders and other anti terror legislation. but have been unable to find a way to reduce judicial scope. Labour gave up some time ago. I suspect the Tories will follow a similar course even if the HRA is dressed up as a new British Bill.

  • Bubbler

    Because derogations are only allowed in ‘states of emergency threatening the life of the nation.’ Not the case here.

  • Bubbler

    Couldn’t have said it better.

  • what to do about my right to live free from terror

    You don’t have such a right. Your terror is entirely subjective. You may be terrified of Islamic supremacists, radioactive spiders or bent spoons for all we know.

    And before we start mentally convicting terror suspects, it’s worth stopping to read Craig Murray’s take: http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2010/05/first_islamopho.html

  • Stephen

    I think it just makes our government look vindictive if it deports the people it can’t convict. They’re apparently going to get you somehow.

    The people they do convict go straight to jail because they’re guilty of something.

  • Alias

    “The HRA protects your rights from the government, and we must all be vigilant that the government doesn’t use fear of terrorism to curtail civil liberties bit by bit.”

    It doesn’t protect your rights from government because, rather obviously, government can amend the legislation with the approval of parliament. It would only protect your rights if your constitution was written and only subject to amendment by referendum. Your rights are entirely a gift from your state, and can be withdrawn by that state at its discretion.