Laurie Penny reported directly from the London #dayx #demo2010 second national student protest against the proposed massive hike in university tuition fees and budget cuts:
Outside Downing Street, in front of a line of riot police, I am sitting beside a makeshift campfire. It’s cold, and the schoolchildren who have skipped classes gather around as a student with a three-string guitar strikes up the chords to Tracy Chapman’s Talkin Bout a Revolution. The kids start to sing, sweet and off-key, an apocalyptic choir knotted around a small bright circle of warmth and energy. “Finally the tables are starting to turn,” they sing, the sound of their voices drowning out the drone of helicopters and the screams from the edge of the kettle. “Finally the tables are starting to turn.”
Then a cop smashes into the circle. The police shove us out of the way and the camp evaporates in a hiss of smoke, forcing us forward. Not all of us know how we got here, but we’re being crammed in with brutal efficiency: the press of bodies is vice-tight and still the cops are screaming at us to move forward. Beside me, a schoolgirl is crying. She is just 14.
Let me make this clear: children were being kettled. What do I mean by ‘kettled’? Here:
@PME200 To anyone not aware what “Kettling” is, it’s being trapped by armed police without food/water & being forced to piss or crap yourself. Nice.
Now why would the Metropolitan Police end up kettling children in freezing temperatures at night? It all seems to hinge around the attack on the police van:
Why was the van there, and was it there deliberately to draw out the violent protesters? Steven Sumpter believes so:
During the protests in London today the police stated that they had started “containing” the crowds after they violently attacked a police van. I contend that the van was deliberately planted in order to provide an excuse.
At around 12:30 I started watching BBC News which as showing live footage of the protests from a helicopter. The police were already blocking the route of the planned march with a huge amount of vehicles and offices. I watched that van be driven through the crowd from behind, angering all the people that had to jump out of the way. It was quickly surrounded by furious protesters and forced to stop. A little later, a few (unknown) people started to attack the van, trying to break the windows, roll the van over and paint graffiti on it. Some brave kids tried to stop the attacks, but were eventually pushed aside.
[But] there is something really interesting about this van.
- It has no number plates
- It is painted in the OLD livery of the Metropolitan police.
- It has been out of service long enough to get rusty.
He might be right. Emma Rubach offers the case of Canada’s G20 policing:
Protesters were led to or allowed to march or run past bait cars (police cruisers abandoned in the middle of Toronto streets) and one was definitely trashed and burned fairly quickly according to media reports. A man has been taken into custody.
The other bait cars were left mysteriously abandoned in the street for a long period. In one video peaceful protesters are seen sitting on a car and hanging around it, doing nothing violent at all. No police show up to claim it in a city downtown where you can’t walk down many streets without fear of search and arrest. Then the video shows a suspected agent provocateur wearing an expensive jacket appear. He jumps on the hood and bounces the car, asks a peaceful protester to move aside. Kicks out the windshield with a steel toed boot. He then goes on top and smashes the lights. People oppose him verbally, he studies his work from the street then others appear (rather shadowy in the video) helping him as he sets up the interior of the car. Likely for later burning. And it appears that the burning was set to be done from the inside. That gas tanks of these cars were likely left at the near the empty mark.
So it appears bait cars were placed, but they didn’t rely entirely on protesters to simply burn them. They had police agents on the ground to make sure it was done. Other activist video shows protesters or police agents dressed in black (it’s hard to be sure) setting up a couple police cars by slowly setting fires in their interiors. Again, the cars were simply left in the street as bait or decoys and no police attempt to save their own equipment. Whether police agents or protesters destroyed the cars, it makes little difference. There is such a thing as entrapment. If police know that by leaving a car abandoned in the middle of the street on a protest route will eventually lead to it being vandalized. They have in fact entrapped the vandal, who otherwise may have done nothing. In this case it is worse because with 20,000 police and riot police they could have easily pulled the cars out quickly.
In Toronto in times when people take to the streets, like soccer fans or whatever. Police do put cruisers at a slant to block the road and the two officers stand outside by the car. Never do they abandon it, and if they had to they would put in a quick call and the police cavalry would come to the rescue. At the G20 they just put cars out and left.
Look at how things do appear to add up. Here’s the van surrounded by the crowd:
And here’s a little evidence of agents provocateurs:
@simoncollister Just seen plain clothes cop get himself out of the kettle. Agent prov?
But what of the rest of the crowd? Alex Thomson adds another crucial perspective:
The word from protesters in Whitehall was that the police left their transit there as “bait” for the protest to turn nasty. The reality of it is that it became surrounded by the march and a number of officers were lucky to get out without serious injury.
Never mind this debate though. What I saw perfectly encapsulates today: a group of students, so young as to still be in school uniform, surrounded said van and persuaded the half-hearted and under-equipped would-be attackers to leave the thing alone.
As far as I am aware it is still there with a new gloss of grafitti and various swear words. But it has not been burned. Your average west Belfast teenager might look upon all this as the rather genteel affair that in truth it was.
Here are the kids who stopped the attack on the van:
Yet the police kettled (and attacked) them all:
@new1deas Police detaining students/schoolchildren for 4 hours pre-emptively, not allowing them to move.
@CarolineLucas Just raised point of order in HoC about kettling of schoolchildren for hours today in freezing cold, asking for Home Sec be questioned
For the record PennyRed is the Laurie Penny whose report I’ve quote from at the top of this post. Given the evidence, what possible justification could there have been for such a severe response? The Met said:
“The containment continues in Whitehall to prevent further criminal damage,” the Met said in a statement.
So it looks pretty likely that they set the van up for attack, might well have provoked darker elements in the crowd to attack it, then giving them justification (in their eyes) to attack back and kettle everyone. Kettling has been judged (domestically) to be legal, but the ECHR has yet to rule on whether or not it breaches human rights law. Given that peacefully protesting children were held for hours, into the night, and in the freezing cold, you can’t help but wonder what the final ruling might be. Aside from that, the Met’s tactics were utterly counter-productive:
Research into how people behave at demonstrations, sports events, music festivals and other mass gatherings shows not only that crowds nearly always act in a highly rational way, but also that when facing an emergency, people in a crowd are more likely to cooperate than panic. Paradoxically, it is often actions such as kettling that lead to violence breaking out. Often, the best thing authorities can do is leave a crowd to its own devices.
Laurie Penny offers a positive perspective on the civil engagement of the protesting kids nonetheless:
But just because there are no leaders here doesn’t mean there is no purpose. These kids – and most of them are just kids, with no experience of direct action, who walked simultaneously out of lessons across the country just before morning break – want to be heard. “Our votes don’t count,” says one nice young man in a school tie. The diversity of the protest is extraordinary: white, black and Asian, rich and poor. Uniformed state-school girls in too-short skirts pose by a plundered police van as their friends take pictures, while behind them a boy in a mask holds a placard reading “Burn Eton”.
“We can’t even vote yet,” says Leyla, 14. “So what can we do? Are we meant to just sit back while they destroy our future and stop us going to university? I wanted to go to art school, I can’t even afford A-levels now without EMA [education maintenance allowance]“.
But the Met, having completely bungled their response to the previous protest, seem to want to make it clear they don’t want a repeat. Led this time by the infamous Bob Broadhurst (who was responsible for their disastrous G20 effort), the only logical interpretation of their tactics was that they terrorised the kids deliberately, having generated an excuse to get away with it in front of the mainstream media and in the face of social media’s even closer view. And why (apart from restoring some wounded pride)? Take a look at the political response to yesterday’s protest:
Michael Gove, the education secretary, has urged the media to deny violent student protesters the “oxygen of publicity” as he called for the “full force of the criminal law” to be applied to activists “smashing windows” to make their point.
Gove evoked the language of former Tory premier Margaret Thatcher as he made clear his fury at demonstrators involved in skirmishes as thousands of students took part in demonstrations staged around the country today in protest against higher tuition fees and university budget cuts.
Gove has said he won’t budge at all on the tuition fee hike, and now has the advantage of the police trying to crush student resistance to his policy, supported by a Home Secretary who has no problem whatsoever with their violent, unjustified behaviour. As at G20, there was a political strategy here; the Met’s behaviour was no accident. Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has today said:
He added that, in the future “we are going to be much more cautious. We are into a different period I am afraid. We will be putting far more assets in place to ensure we can respond properly. Essentially the game has changed”.
and by all accounts I’ve seen completely misrepresented the Met’s response to distressed, kettled protesters:
Sir Paul acknowledged that letting people out from the cordon last night was “frustratingly slow” but “water and toilets were requested and delivered”.
Spin and cooperation with the government like that sets a chilling precedent for the cuts and price hikes to come.
The moment I’ve finished typing this, I’m going to walk out the door and set about strangling every single person on the planet. Starting with you, dear reader. I’m sorry, but it has to be done, for reasons that will become clear in a moment.
And for the sake of transparency, in case the powers-that-be are reading: this is categorically not a joke. I am 100% serious. Even though I don’t know who you are or where you live, I am going to strangle you, your family, your pets, your friends, your imaginary friends, and any lifelike human dummies with haunted stares and wipe-clean vinyl orifices you’ve got knocking around, perhaps in a secret compartment under the stairs. The only people who might escape my wrath are the staff and passengers at Nottingham’s Robin Hood airport, because they’ve been granted immunity by the state.
Last week 27-year-old accountant Paul Chambers lost an appeal against his conviction for comments he made back in January via the social networking hoojamflip Twitter, venting his frustration when heavy snow closed the airport, leaving him unable to visit his girlfriend.
“Crap!” he wrote. “Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”
Anti-terror experts intercepted this message and spent hours deciphering it, eventually uncovering a stark coded warning within, cunningly disguised as a series of flippant words.
Chambers’ use of multiple exclamation marks is particularly chilling. He almost seems to find the whole thing rather funny. The violent destruction of an entire airport – hundreds of passengers and staff being blasted to shrieking ribbons by tonnes of explosive, all because one man’s dirty weekend has been postponed – yet all this senseless carnage is little more than an absurdist joke in the warped mind of Paul Chambers.
Funny is it, Mr Chambers? A big old laugh? Tell that to the theoretical victims of your hypothetical atrocity. Go on. Dig them out of the imaginary rubble. Listen to their anguished, notional screams. Ask how loudly they laughed as you hit the make-believe detonator. Go on. Ask them.
If you dare.
At least when Osama bin Laden broadcasts a warning to the west, his intentions form part of an extremist ideology informed by decades of resentment. Chambers issues bloodcurdling threats at the drop of a snowflake. This makes him the very worst kind of terrorist there is – the kind prepared to slaughter thousands in the name of inclement weather conditions.
Mercifully, in this case, before any innocent blood could be shed, Chambers was arrested, held in a police cell, and convicted of sending a “menacing electronic communication”. His appeal was rejected last week by Judge Jacqueline Davies who described his original tweet as “menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed.”
Quite right too. In fact, throughout this case, the authorities have behaved impeccably – which is why it’s such a crying shame I’m going to have to strangle all of them too. But strangle them I must.
Why? Because many of his fellow tweeters, outraged by Judge Davies’ ruling, have retweeted Chambers’ original message in a misguided show of solidarity. Thousands of people, all threatening to blow Robin Hood airport “sky high”. Clearly they have to be stopped – but infuriatingly, many of them hide behind anonymous usernames. The only way to ensure they all taste justice is to punish everyone equally, just to be sure. Hence the strangling, which doesn’t feel like too much of an overreaction under the circumstances. I’m just following the authorities’ lead. They ought to give me a medal. From beyond the grave. After I’ve strangled them.
Still, loath as I am to strangle every man, woman, and child on the planet, it won’t be an entirely thankless task. Clearly I will feel no remorse while strangling Chambers. He is a dangerous madman, and I look forward to sliding my hands around his neck and slowly choking the life out of him.
I also relish the prospect of strangling another tweeter-in-crime: Gareth Compton, the Tory councillor who ran afoul of the authorities last week for tweeting the words “can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.”
He later apologised for what he claimed – outlandishly – was “an ill-conceived attempt at humour”, even though I’m sure Judge Jacqueline Davies would agree that it was menacing in its content and obviously so, and in fact could not be more clear, and that any ordinary person reading it would see it in that way and be alarmed.
Reassuringly, the bloodthirsty maniac Compton was arrested hours later, presumably after being cornered in his lair by a Swat team. I’d like to shake every member of that team by the hand, which sadly won’t be possible while I’m strangling them.
Anyway, I’m writing this on Friday, so by the time you read this on Monday my strangling rampage will have begun – unless the authorities have intercepted these words and arrested me in the interim, in which case I’d like to make it absolutely clear that I intend to strangle everyone in the prison before turning my hands on myself. Attention home secretary: you’ve got three days and a bit to get your shit together. Otherwise I’m strangling this planet sky-high.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has asked us to tell him what laws need repealing:
He’s a brave man, I’ll give him that. But the answers are there in front of his face. Let’s start with the case of Jules Mattson:
On Saturday 26 June, photojournalist Jules Mattsson, who is a minor and was documenting the Armed Forces Day parade in Romford, was questioned and detained by a police officer after taking a photo of young cadets.
According to Mattsson, who spoke to BJP this morning, after taking the photo he was told by a police officer that he would need parental permission for his image. The photographer answered that, legally, he didn’t. While he tried to leave the scene to continue shooting, a second officer allegedly grabbed his arm to question him further.
According an audio recording of the incident, the police officer argued, at first, that it was illegal to take photographs of children, before adding that it was illegal to take images of army members, and, finally, of police officers. When asked under what legislation powers he was being stopped, the police officer said that Mattsson presented a threat under anti-terrorism laws. The photographer was pushed down on stairs and detained until the end of the parade and after the intervention of three other photographers.
Now I know Jules. He’s a good kid and a superb, passionate photographer, and this is is just appalling. Want proof? He recorded it:
The debate about the Metropolitan (and City) Police’s abuse of Section 44 has been waged many times and the arguments have been made more times than I can be bothered to think. But it’s now, once and for all, conclusively been ruled in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights:
In January 2010 the European Court held that section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (the broad police power to stop and search without suspicion) violates the right to respect for private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights (Gillan and Quinton v. UK4158/05  ECHR 28 (12 January 2010)). The claimants received £500 each by way of compensation.
The European Court has now rejected the UK’s application to appeal to the court’s Grand Chamber, meaning that the decision is final. This leaves stop and search powers in further disarray. The Home Secretary has already announced an “urgent review” of the powers after the recent admission by the Home Office that thousands of individual searches had been conducted illegally.
It’s clear that Section 44 has to go, but the risk remains that Clegg uses this scheme either to get the country to vent about laws they don’t like, or simply to delete specific laws without confronting the trends and behaviours which led to them in the first place. The cops who attacked Jules Mattson didn’t just cite Section 44 to try to stop him taking perfectly lawful photos – they made all sorts of garbage up in order to intimidate him into not taking photos. There is an institutional prejudice within the ranks against photographers, which was channelled by Section 44, and which would be much harder to root out and stop. New Labour made it abundantly clear they didn’t care one iota about the Met’s excesses. Time will tell if Theresa May cares any more, and this is what I want Nick Clegg to understand and tackle, more than anything.
There’s a fight under way behind the scenes between the ConDemNation coalition partners over the Human Rights Act. The Tories have long wanted to supplant the Human Rights Act (HRA) with a British Bill of Rights, on the one hand not trying to extract the country from the European Convention on Human Rights, but also trying to, as Helena Kennedy puts it:
“protect our freedoms from state encroachment” on the one hand and “encourage greater social responsibility” on the other.
She then goes on to add:
No explanation is given as to how to achieve these triangulated aims without weakening the protections we now have in the HRA.
It’s also not quite clear what those aims actually mean in practice. The language is quite reminiscent of New Labour’s similar idea of a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, although when discussed at the Convention on Modern Liberty early last year the idea was kicked thoroughly into touch for failing to identify what additional responsibilities should be codified other than to obey existing criminal law. Both parties have in recent years tried very hard to conflate civil rights with human rights, and have notably attacked the latter when rulings under the HRA haven’t been to their political benefit. But that’s not a sufficient reason to replace the Act, quite the opposite in fact, particularly, as Richard Norton-Taylor acknowledges:
All the Human Rights Act, brought in by the Blair government, really did was incorporate the convention into UK domestic law, avoiding long and expensive delays in disputed European court cases.
And as of an interview in the Times yesterday morning the Deputy Prime Minister wasn’t having any watering down of the HRA or any suggestion of its repeal. Clegg said:
“Any government would tamper with it at its peril.”
In response, Theresa May, the new and already illiberal Home Secretary has seemed to back down:
May was asked about the manifesto promise in an interview on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, she downplayed the significance of this pledge. “We did say that we thought the Human Rights Act was not working in certain areas,” she said.
She went on: “We are currently in discussions with our coalition partners about what we will be doing in this area.”
‘Discussions with our coalition partners’? We can only hope they went along the lines of ’you tamper with it at your peril’, but there are pressures for both sides to do just that. The HateMail has unsurprisingly gone on the offensive:
A flagship Tory pledge to tear up the Human Rights Act has been watered down in the coalition pact with the Liberal Democrats.
In opposition, the Conservatives repeatedly promised to replace Labour’s controversial legislation with a Bill of Rights.
But Government sources said last night that an independent commission would now be established to examine the ‘feasibility’ of the move.
‘Are we going to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights? Very possibly,’ said one. ‘But the commission is going to look into all that.’
A commission? Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, has said:
“A coalition that has attempted to tie itself together with the language of civil liberties cannot now renege on fundamental human rights.
Given the way in which Liberal Democrats all the way up to the Deputy Prime Minister vowed to defend our Human Rights Act, any attempt to dilute it would spell the end of this Coalition – and rightly so.
Governments like people are bound together with common values not vested interests. There is nothing more British than the free speech, fair trials, personal privacy and rule against torture protected by the HRA.”
Yet the final coalition agreement accepts this commission. We have to hope that its findings aren’t against retaining the HRA – both for our sakes, and for the Deputy Prime Minister’s political future. Helena Kennedy concludes:
it may be very tempting for the Liberal Democrats to carve out victories on some areas of reform by making concessions elsewhere. This is why we have to make it clear that the terrain of human rights must not be the ground on which any further deals are done. Human rights have to be non-negotiables in this new political landscape.
And Clive Baldwin warns:
Experience shows that a taste for human rights acquired in opposition can soon wear off in government. Once comfortable behind their desks, new ministers tend soon to find the very repressive and authoritarian measures they decried in opposition rather congenial and useful once they sit in government. Let’s hope that the novelty of coalition government can buck that trend.
I couldn’t agree more. It would be alarming if the new Prime Minister actually negotiated effective repeal of the HRA and achieved his ambition of curbing the power of the judiciary:
And it’s why we will abolish the Human Rights Act and introduce a new Bill of Rights, so that Britain’s laws can no longer be decided by unaccountable judges.
It’s a second gripe about the HRA, it isn’t related to the first, and is a common refrain from the Right – ‘unaccountable’ or ‘activist’ judges must be stopped from interpreting codified, semi- or actual constitutional laws, because it interferes with the legislators’ political agendas. But to suggest the Act is at fault because judges have been free to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights from a British perspective makes no sense other than a political one – the judges and the Act get in the way, and the Tories would prefer they themselves had control over human rights law in the UK. Except the UK would still be covered by the convention.
The immediate effect would be to effectively deny access to the European Court for those who really need it because they simply wouldn’t be able to afford it – it’s dog whistle politics, Tories agreeing amongst themselves that some people deserve access to human rights, and not others. But Helena Kennedy is right – human rights are human rights – they are (and must be kept) universal. A replacement, which the final Coalition Agreement hints at, would water down the principle of universality and endanger those most in need of human rights protection. Clegg surely understands that, and given the rumours that all other disagreements in the coalition are being referred to similar ‘commissions’, it does look as though this battle will remain at stalemate. Any other outcome would surely smash the coalition into smithereens.
It sure looks so. Clarke has never been supportive of repeal, and now the Tories have the Lib Dems as coalition partners it appears the new government is unlikely to make moves against the HRA any time soon:
The Tories had promised to replace the act, which many believe protects criminals more than innocent people, with a UK Bill of Rights.
But Mr Clarke, who was appointed to head the Ministry of Justice on Wednesday, suggested it was not high on the list of actions while the pledge was notable by its absence in the coalition agreement published this week.
In 2006, Mr Clarke attacked David Cameron over his “anti-foreigner” proposals to tear up the Human Rights Act, which was introduced by Labour, and said a Bill of Rights was “xenophobic and legal nonsense”.
And shortly after taking up his new Cabinet post, Mr Clarke said: “We are not committed to leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, we have committed ourselves to a British Human Rights Act.
“We are still signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights.
“I have also got to see when the coalition agreement is completed how high a priority this is going to be given.”
It looks like a signal that the Tories’ intent to repeal the Act has been kicked into the long grass. If so it would represent an enormous success of the ConDemNation coalition. The main benefit of the Human Rights Act has been to make the European Convention on Human Rights more accessible to those who need it the most, and whilst I’ve always understood the Tories have never intended to leave the Convention, I believe the British Act to be indispensable. Explicitly proscribing the universality of human rights, not limiting them on nationalistic or any other grounds, and making access to the provisions of the Convention easier by incorporating them into British law was one of the greatest achievements of the New Labour government. If the Tories think they can’t get a repeal past the Liberal Democrats (or indeed the Justice Secretary), that’s something we should all be grateful for.
But according to European law they do:
The Council of Europe has urged the UK government to hurry up and change the law on prisoner voting rights. As things stand, the UK’s 84,073 strong prison population (all avowed Conservative voters, according to reports) are barred from voting in elections under section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.
In March 2004, however, in the case of Hirst v. United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) unanimously ruled that the maintenance of an absolute bar on convicted prisoners voting was in breach of Article 3 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to free and fair elections.
The case was brought by John Hirst, a prisoner who, in 1980, had been sentenced to a term of discretionary life imprisonment after pleading guilty to manslaughter. The UK Government unsuccessfully appealed the decision before the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR.
Whether you agree with it or not, the case was won under this protocol, to which the UK is signed:
The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.
So it really makes you wonder where Roger Godsiff gets off putting together an election leaflet like that, basically saying ‘Lib Dems Love Paedophiles and Murderers’ which couldn’t be less true. Godsiff meanwhile had the nerve to defend the leaflet:
Mr Godsiff defended the campaign tactic, saying the Lib Dems’ policy on the issue was “black and white” but they were not making that clear to voters.
“I agree that the imagery is strong but I do not accept that it is any stronger than anything that has been put out by my opponents,” Mr Godsiff told the BBC.
“The leaflet has been distributed in certain areas but it does not contain anything that is factually incorrect. I have put out some negative campaigning when my opponents do not tell the electorate what their position is.
“It is right and proper to ask whether they support or do not support whether people convicted of serious crimes can vote. I have invited other candidates to make their position clear….I have made my position clear.”
Labour has withdrawn the leaflet. The Liberal Democrats meanwhile describe their position on the European Court’s ruling as:
in future, [they said] judges should be given discretion to decide, upon sentencing, whether to strip someone of the vote, depending on the length of sentence and the nature of the crime.
Once a new system was in place, they said existing prisoners should be given the right to launch an appeal to try and secure the vote.
However, they insisted that those guilty of the most serious crime should never be able to do this.
Why this policy should be so offensive to Godsiff is a mystery, unless the leaflet really is a reflection of how terrified the party now is of the Liberal Democrats. I have to say I agree with the Court’s ruling, and not with the Lib Dems on this. The Court:
found no evidence to support the claim that disenfranchisement deterred crime and considered that the imposition of a blanket punishment on all prisoners regardless of their crime or individual circumstances indicated no rational link between the punishment and the offender.
The ECtHR also maintained that:
Removal of the vote in fact runs counter to the rehabilitation of the offender as a lawabiding member of the community and undermines the authority of the law as derived from a legislature which the community as a whole votes into power.
I agree with those points. I see no reason why any prisoner should ever be denied the vote. Reading the rest of the link above it’s revealing that the government is doing everything in its power not to abide by the Court’s ruling. Well done yet again to New Labour for sticking to its utter contempt for human rights. This general election will not be run in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights – that’s what’s really offensive.
It’s sure to cause a storm, but two women have been barred from flying out of the UK for failing to submit to full body scanning:
Two women, one a Muslim, have become the first people to be barred from boarding a flight because they refused to go through a full-body airport scanner.
Manchester airport confirmed today that the women, who were booked to fly to Islamabad with Pakistan International Airlines, were told they could not get on the plane after they refused to be scanned for medical and religious reasons.
The women had been selected at random, said the airport.
The Muslim woman decided to forfeit her ticket and left her luggage at the airport. Her companion also left the airport saying she did not go through the scanner on medical grounds because she had an infection.
The full-body scanners were introduced at Manchester and Heathrow last month after the Christmas Day bombing attempt in Detroit. The £80,000 Rapiscan machines show a clear body outline and have been described by critics as the equivalent of “virtual strip searching”.
While American transport authorities offer passengers a choice between going through the full-body scanner or going through a metal-arch scanner and a physical search, the British government has said that a refusal to go through the body scanner would bar passengers from boarding aircraft.
I’m not sure what to say, other than isn’t this the most blatant violation of Article 2 of Protocol 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights? There has been no debate about the introduction of full body scanners at airports – what advantage do they actually provide, against the level of the real threat we face after using pre-existing technologies, scanners and security procedures? Yet again we’re all presumed to be terrorists unless we prove otherwise. Hopefully a legal challenge will be soon be launched against their introduction, and to indeed to rescue the right of privacy which this government holds in such low regard.
Some people say there’s no reason to worry about the Tories and their threat to repeal the Human Rights Act. After all they aren’t considering pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights (which would be a grave development indeed), so surely it’s just a reformulation of rights and responsibilities, the likes of which Jack Straw is already considering? It seems their threat is downright dangerous:
Here’s what he told the Politics Show:
The moment a burglar steps over your threshold, and invades your property, with all the threat that gives to you, your family and your livelihood, I think they leave their human rights outside.
Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling has previously denied that a Tory government would provide householders with a “licence to kill” but Cameron’s words appear to promise just that.
The principled case against this position is that it would, in theory, allow householders to murder and torture burglars and thus endorse mob rule. The pragmatic case against it is that it could actually increase the danger to the public. As Jenni Russell recently argued in the Sunday Times, burglars who are aware that any break-in could result in their death are far more likely to come armed with guns or knives and be prepared to use them first.
It is simply dishonest for large sections of the right to continue to claim that the existing law does not provide individuals with a decent right to self-defence. It recognises that householders may, in extremis, use what appears to be excessive force. More sensible application of the current law (Munir Hussain should have received a suspended sentence), rather than a dangerous new law is needed.
In declaring that burglars “leave their human rights outside” Cameron, a supposedly “liberal conservative”, has adopted the language of the demagogue and the populist. He should retract his comments immediately.
He should indeed. The whole point about human rights is that they are universally applicable to all people at all times, under all circumstances. It’s an ominous sign that the likely next PM doesn’t just not believe in the rule of law, but doesn’t even comprehend human rights. Articles 1-3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reinforce their universal applicability, and it makes you wonder what Cameron wants to replace the Human Rights Act with. A Prime Minister who wilfully conflates rights under domestic criminal law with universal human rights would be a dangerous man indeed.
David Cameron has long trailed his desire to repeal the Human Rights Act upon becoming Prime Minister. Conor Gearty reminds us how important human rights still are and how much of an impact the Act has yet to make:
In our bleak, post-1989 capitalist era they have become (for now) the only way of doing socialism.
When we talk about human rights these days we are often in fact discussing issues – the fight against poverty; the push for greater equality; a decent health system; greater support for developing nations – that were the common vernacular of that now largely extinct species, the international socialist. And when we see “communist” China apparently reject co-operation in Copenhagen, we cannot help but wonder whether the civil and political rights denied by the guns of Tiananmen might have made a difference.
In short, human rights are the answer to many of the seemingly intractable questions with which we are faced. The Human Rights Act has played a part in keeping the flame of universalism flickering, small for sure – but the Conservatives should not be allowed to snuff it out without a least a fight from everybody who thinks of themselves as of the left.
I don’t think the HRA has been responsible for holding the government to account on almost anything, but that doesn’t mean it’s not vitally important. Jack Straw introduced the HRA to use as a prism through which government policy was to be formed; that abundantly clearly has never been the case. But it has provided access to redress under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) through British courts, and the importance of this can’t be overstated. Cameron bleats on about how the ECHR won’t be undone, should he repeal the HRA, that Britain will still be a signatory to it. But the fundamental purpose of the HRA was to enable access to European human rights law for those who couldn’t otherwise afford to get to Strasbourg. Repeal the HRA and a majority of those who need it will be cut off, only to have what will no doubt be an ultra-nationalistic British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities (or was that Straw’s newest authoritarian wheeze?) to fall back on. Will non-British nationals be able to use it? Will Cameron decide human rights are no longer universal, and make them contingent? The signs aren’t good.
We will all have to fight tooth and nail to retain the Human Rights Act, and I hope every right-thinking person I know or who knows me will do so.
Gary McKinnon’s appeal to the nascent UK Supreme Court against extradition to the United States has already been turned down:
The High Court ruled the case was not of “general public importance” to go to the UK’s highest court.
Glasgow-born Mr McKinnon, 43, of Wood Green, London, is accused of breaking into the US’s military computer system.
Mr McKinnon, who has Asperger’s syndrome, insists he was just seeking evidence of UFOs.
In July he lost a High Court bid to avoid extradition.
Giving the court’s decision on Friday, Lord Justice Stanley Burnton, who heard Mr McKinnon’s latest appeal earlier this year with Mr Justice Wilkie, said extradition was “a lawful and proportionate response” to his alleged offending.
There was no real prospect of him succeeding with his claim under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights that extradition would breach his right to a private and family life.
Nor did the court think, on the evidence it had seen, that he had an arguable case that extradition to the US would result in a breach of his Article 3 right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment.
What we have is a terrible situation where a man’s rights are being systematically violated by anti-terror legislation, which was never intended for cases such as this, and wasn’t even voted on by Parliament. We have a Home Secretary who admits he could block the extradition but who prefers not to set a precedent for genuine terrorists in the future. We have a High Court which believes that this situation doesn’t count as inhuman or degrading treatment for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome.
The US hasn’t made a case against him because they don’t have to under the 2003 Extradition Act, and the Department of Public Prosecutions itself doesn’t think the case would stand in the US (and that it definitely would not in the UK. So why is Gary McKinnon now forced to try the European Court of Human Rights to prevent this mean-spirited and entirely unnecessary extradition?
Peter Oborne argues Cameron’s Tories, instead of repealing New Labour’s signature piece of legislation, should embrace it because it fits in with their traditions and ethos:
The rights set out in the act are taken directly from the European convention on human rights, which was signed by the UK in 1951. They were inspired by a Conservative politician, Sir Winston Churchill, and drafted under the guidance of another one, David Maxwell-Fyfe (later Lord Chancellor Kilmuir) in the face of considerable opposition from the Attlee government. The act should thus be regarded as the creation not of New Labour, but of the Conservative party.
Moreover, Conservative critics are wrong to say that the rights of the act are in general socioeconomic entitlements. In fact, they are absolutely fundamental to the British common law tradition. They include the right to life; the prohibition of torture, first enacted by the Long Parliament in 1640; rights to liberty and security of person; the right to a fair trial, which dates back to Magna Carta; the right to respect for private and family life; rights to freedom of expression and religion; and the right to freedom of association. These rights are not radical: they are deeply Conservative.
And finally, the act itself operates in a peculiarly Conservative way. It confers no new right that has not already been long recognised in common law, or to which parliament has not already long committed the UK. Its rights are not inviolable, but can be set aside at will. Where there is an inconsistency of law, it leaves it to parliament to decide how to resolve that inconsistency, and only if it chooses. A more Conservative approach could hardly be conceived.
Jack Straw may have tacked rightwards since the 1998 Act, but the fact remains that the European Convention on Human Rights is enshrined in British law. Repealing it wouldn’t end the ECHR, nor would it end Britain’s human rights obligations under the Convention, but it would mean countless people once again being unable to afford to access their rights. There is no need to repeal the act; the only point of creating a British-only document to replace it would be to restrict human rights on nationalistic grounds. We should all be terrified of the prospect.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson has previously insisted that his hands were tied, that he was legally unable to intervene in the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the US. However in his meeting this week with David Davis, Michael Meacher and Chris Huhne he changed his tune:
“[Johnson] did accept that it would be possible for him to intervene and that it wasn’t unlawful for him to intervene, but claimed the limits of his discretion meant he had to be governed by law and precedents,” said [Meacher's] spokesman. “He was concerned that precedents would be set for terrorists.”
In a blog post on Wednesday, Meacher said Johnson felt his scope for intervention was narrowed by Article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights, which limits interference in extradition to cases where the subject is at real risk of execution, torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment.
The three politicians came away from the meeting feeling that Johnson had been prepared to listen to their case, and that it “wasn’t the end of the road”, Meacher’s spokesman said.
The group of MPs is now trying to meet the US Ambassador to try to get the US government to withdraw extradition proceedings on human rights grounds. The Department of Public Prosecutions believes McKinnon doesn’t have a case to answer in the UK and that the case won’t stand up in a US court; Johnson should use his powers to step in and end this circus. So he believes the precedent would aid terrorists, but I don’t accept for a moment that a UFO-obsessed computer hacker with Asperger’s Syndrome is a legitimate sacrifice to the continuing ‘war on terror’.
Control orders appear to be on their way out, after becoming victims of their own twisted logic:
Most of the remaining control orders imposed on terror suspects are expected to be revoked following the decision by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to free a man with Libyan and British nationality after three years under virtual house arrest.
The control order imposed on the man, known only as AF, was withdrawn last week as his lawyers prepared for a court hearing at which Johnson would have been forced to disclose the secret intelligence case against him.
The decision followed a landmark law lords ruling in June that it was unlawful to use “secret evidence” to place restrictions, including a 16-hour curfew, on terror suspects who had never been charged or tried in open court.
The unanimous ruling by nine judges, led by the senior law lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, opened the way for the 20 suspects on control orders to launch fresh legal challenges demanding to know the nature of the allegations against them.
This abuse of habeas corpus was one of the most disgusting pieces of legislation of the entire New Labour project. It’s a fundamental tenet of our way of life that you can’t lock anyone up without laying down a charge against them and providing evidence to back up that charge. Yet the state deemed it acceptable to control people’s movements, to inhibit their freedom, to limit their possessions and restrict their ability to communicate because they ‘couldn’t be prosecuted in court’ for fear of ‘revealing secret intelligence’. So they were ‘terror suspects’, so what? Habeas corpus has never been restricted by race, religion, gender or social class; to suggest that the law and judicial system couldn’t cope with certain individuals because of their race, religion or political affiliations was always illogical at best, deeply racist at worst. And refusing even to pass the evidence held against suspects to their lawyers was a huge violation of human rights as laid down by the Universal Declaration and the European Convention on Human Rights. Now the justification of ‘secret evidence’ has been thrown out, control orders seem likely to pass into one of the murkiest eras of modern British history. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty said:
“Whilst some people have been driven quite mad by years of punishment without trial, suspects are allowed to wander through densely populated public spaces and many have disappeared. Those responsible for this policy should be thoroughly ashamed for creating so much injustice for so little security in return.”