Saturday, February 28, 2009 

Weekend links.

All the big talk online is about the Convention on Modern Liberty. The Graun has an entire section on it, while Alix Mortimer is providing an essential commentary on the speakers. The Heresiarch also contrasts Philip Pullman with the completely blase attitude of David Aaronavitch.

Elsewhere we have the usual mixed bag. Paul Linford comments on the cancellation of prime minister question's and the very short suspension of usual hostilities, Chicken Yoghurt covers the cowardice and contempt of David Miliband and Jacqui Smith, Tim Worstall more than justifiably calls Frank Field a grotty little fascist, Anton Vowl notes the typical hypocrisy of the Mail, Neil Robertson (longlisted for the Orwell bloggers' prize, along with the Heresiarch, Alix Mortimer and Hopi Sen amongst others) identifies the ultimate conclusion of the utter lunacy of drug prohibition, and Hopi Sen drafts Gordon Brown's speech next week to both houses of Congress.

From the papers, Peter Oborne continues his fine form by declaring the Blair years the most morally squalid of recent history, Marina Hyde notes the staggering chutzpah of the super-rich in demanding tax breaks so they'll donate more to charity, Rory Bremner continues the liberty theme, and Deborah Orr quite rightly states that the blame game doesn't end with Fred Goodwin.

As for the worst tabloid article, we must first note something quite amazing: I agree with something Amanda Platell says in her usual customary submission, although I was always inclined to be rather sniffy about the way in which Jade Goody's husband has been treated by both the system and the press. Someone who would usually be regarded as an unrepentant yob who viciously attacked a 16-year-old with a golf club has instead been feted by the media and treated with kid gloves, first having his curfew lifted and now it seems likely to have his tag removed also. The perks of having a former racist who now happens to be dying as your wife. The winner though is Bel Mooney for her stomach-turning "personal letter" (a personal letter also published to over 2 million readers is quite a concept) to the Camerons, especially the open paragraph which makes reference to the snatched long-lens intrusive shot which the Daily Mail disgustingly splashed on its front page on Thursday, all feeling their pain while profiting from it.

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Friday, February 27, 2009 

Jacqui Smith's contempt for the rule of law.

Keeping with Jack Straw, he's got an article in the Graun today protesting bitterly at those of us daring to suggest that we might be sleepwalking towards a police state. He naturally brings up Labour's introduction of the Human Rights Act, which does indeed deserve some form of recognition; problem is that it hasn't stopped the government itself from repeatedly breaching it.

Pertinently, Andy Worthington provides an example of the state power which New Labour wields when it thinks no one will notice or care. Following last week's Lords ruling that Abu Qatada and two unnamed Algerians can be deported, the Home Office attempted to take advantage by claiming that this meant it could revoke the bail of the two men, as well as three others also accused of involvement with terrorism. They decided however not to inform their lawyers of this, and when they did they were gagged until yesterday, when they launched a challenge before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. SIAC ruled that no further action should be taken against the men until next week, with a full hearing scheduled for Thursday.

This wasn't however good enough for the Home Office. The two Algerians, rather than being driven home as ordered were instead taken straight to Belmarsh - in direct defiance of SIAC's ruling. The other three men were picked up in raids on their homes. Presumably this was what the Home Office had planned to do - and went through with it regardless of the ruling.

Thankfully, in a subsequent ruling today SIAC decided that all of the men with the exception of one of the Algerians should be released under the prior decided conditions, although whether this has actually happened or not is unclear. It does however show just how Jacqui Smith views the opinion of the courts when they rule against her - with utter contempt, as also exemplified by the attempt to wriggle out of the ECHR ruling on the DNA database. As Worthington points out, the Magna Carta established that the king could not on his say-so imprison someone without his peers or the law agreeing; New Labour just cannot help repeatedly ripping the rule book to shreds.

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Rendition flashback.

Thanks must go to Mr Eugenides for reminding me of a post from 3 years ago which directly accused Jack Straw of lying:

Q 23. Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea.

This was part of his evidence to the Foreign Affairs committee on the 13th of December 2005, six days after a memo had been circulated, subsequently leaked to the New Statesman, that suggested "moving the debate" on about our involvement with rendition. Since then, it's subsequently turned out that we've been fully complicit in both rendition and torture, but it's well worth reminding yourself of just what a bunch of lying cunts some of our leading politicians are.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009 

The rabbit hole deepens.

In the last post on our involvement with extraordinary rendition, I asked just how far this rabbit hole went. It turns out that it goes even deeper with each passing week: the defence secretary John Hutton has now had to admit to parliament that fighters detained in Iraq had been handed to the Americans, who subsequently "rendered" them to Afghanistan, presumably to the notorious Bagram airbase.

Again, this isn't any real genuine surprise. Former SAS soldier Ben Griffin, who was discharged from the army after he refused to return to Iraq, was gagged by court order from revealing just how deep the policy went of turning over prisoners to the Americans, who subsequently sent them to prisons and detention facilities where torture was endemic. He was to claim that "hundreds" had been handed over in this way; Hutton for now, despite apparently referring to Griffin, is only admitting to these two instances, allegedly involving fighters associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani/Kashmiri group accused of being behind the attacks in Mumbai in November last year.

We ought to be clear: despite the claims that they were only sent to Afghanistan because there were no Pashtu speakers in Iraq to interrogate them, there have been few that have been transferred to Bagram for any other reason than to become acquainted with the "extended questioning regime" practiced there. That the men have not been released and are now entering their fifth year of detention, presumably without any charge or trial or much chance of either, is another detail that was conveninently overlooked.

As the human rights groups are now arguing, the only way to clear this up once and for all is for there to be a independent judicial inquiry, investigating all our alleged links to rendition and illegal treatment of detainees since the beginning of the "war on terror". Investigations by the Intelligence and Security Committee are no longer credible, as their perverse clearing of MI6 of involvement in extraordinary rendition in the case of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna showed. One thing is for sure, and that's there is a lot still to come out. This rabbit hole may well turn out to bottomless.

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Express-watch: It's the Muslims again.

It's an adage I've doubtless alluded to here before, but it's often been said that no news is a perfect opportunity to make it up. Apart from the topic which the two previous posts have mentioned, there wasn't much news about yesterday, and when you're a journalist on the Daily Express, creative news values are already something which you're more than familiar with. Half the time the Express's dubious news values and journalism aren't worth engaging with, especially when the editors of both the Express and the Star have been apparently instructed by Richard Desmond to go as far to the right as they can without disengaging the more liberal readers of the papers.

The screaming headline "BRITISH MUSLIMS ARE KILLING OUR TROOPS" does however deserve a response, mainly because of just how ancient the main sources for it are. There is no actual evidence provided that any British Muslim has killed a British soldier; rather it instead suggests that if anything, the opposite is the case. In any event:

Last week on a visit to Afghanistan, Foreign Secretary David Miliband was shown Taliban bombs containing British-made components. They had either been sent from Britain or brought from the UK by a home-grown recruit.

This was first reported in the Sun and probably elsewhere last Saturday. It proves precisely nothing: components of a bomb, especially the crude improvised explosive devices made by insurgents will inevitably come from all over the place, just as weapons are manufactured all over the world. The same fighters probably have some American-made guns, although they tend to favour older, more easily serviceable weapons. Likewise, it was revealed previously that a number of soldiers in Basra had been killed with American-made bullets from the same NATO sniper rifle. Drawing conclusions that this immediately proves that British Muslims are directly involved in putting together IEDs is taking things too far.

Tal­­i­ban fighters with Yorkshire and West Midlands accents have also been heard talking in intercepted communications, according to a security agency briefing.

This is even older. The Sun first screamed about Nimrods hearing British accents in February last year, in what was probably propaganda that also revealed that, err, we were listening in.

The former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Brigadier Ed Butler, said: “There are British passport holders who live in the UK who are being found in places such as Kandahar.

“There is a link between Kandahar and urban conurbations in the UK. This is something the military understands but the British public does not."

All well and good, but Kandahar is in the neighbouring province to Helmand, and is regarded as one of the more stable cities, which the Canadians are currently in charge of. There are plenty of British passport holders who live in the UK that, believe it or not, have perfectly legitimate links with both Pakistan and Afghanistan. They're not automatically jihadists just because they're visiting those areas.

Last night Tory MP and former infantry officer Patrick Mercer, chairman of the ­Commons counter terrorism sub committee, said: “I am aware from the troops I have ­spoken to that there are British-born insurgents working and fighting with the Taliban. "The evidence is principally from intercepting their radio communications. But in Iraq ­British troops found bodies of insurgents and they were as certain as they could be that they were British.

So now we're conflating Iraq with Afghanistan in a desperate attempt to get at some direct evidence that British Muslims are killing British soldiers.

None of this is to deny that there probably are some British Muslims fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan, but that they most likely number in the tens or less rather than anything approaching three figures. Screaming that they're murdering our boys without providing anything approaching actual evidence is hardly likely to help matters.

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The finest press in the world part 94.

Major congratulations have to go to both the Daily Mail and Mirror for their tremendous scoop, obtaining long lens photographs of David and Samantha Cameron which both splashed on their front page. Doubtless if Paul Dacre and Richard Wallace had just suffered a bereavement they too would be delighted to find themselves staring out from the front of two national newspapers, with no apparent knowledge that they had been photographed. That the Mail declared when Princess Diana died that it would no longer purchase paparazzi shots is a rather instructive irony; no such concern for the leader of the opposition. It seems doubtful that the couple will make a complaint to the PCC about the papers quite disgracefully intruding into their grief, but a more prima facie example of invading private space is difficult to think of.

Likewise, further congratulations must go to the Sun, which has just paid out £30,000 in damages to Arunas Raulynaitis for their completely false story claiming he had ordered the passengers off his bus so he could pray. He had in fact been praying during his break, as he always did, only to find that he had been filmed doing so by a 21-year-old plumber who promptly sent the footage over to the newspaper. When Peter Oborne fully exposed the Sun's story as complete nonsense in his pamphlet about Islamophobia, the Sun's Trevor Kavanagh responded thusly:

This time, he [Peter Oborne] is making the argument that the British media is anti-Muslim.

He cites invented incidents which portray Muslims in a bad light and incite attacks fuelled by religious or race hatred.

...

The accusation that the media — with a few badly researched or unchecked stories — is fomenting race hatred is in itself a trivialisation.

A £30,000 worth trivialisation, it seems.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009 

Ivan.

The incredibly sad death of Ivan Cameron has been one of those rare moments when everyday life rightly transcends bitter political divides and shows that whatever our differences, our common humanity, when it comes down to it, always shines through. It was more than appropriate that it was Gordon Brown who contributed what I'm sure will become the lasting tribute - the man who himself lost a daughter just 10 days after she was born delivering a truly heartfelt and moving message of compassion and empathy to a person whom it has long been clear he has little to no time for. To those who have in the past said that Brown can't do emotion, or that he even lacks the ability to recognise it or when it should be used, even if for political motives, it could not have been a better example of how, when it really matters, that he is more than capable of doing so.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009 

A veto to protect himself.

The decision not to release the minutes of the meetings of the cabinet on the 13th and 17th of March 2003 is both unsurprising and wholly reflective of the entire New Labour approach to so-called open government. Ever since the request was put in under the Freedom of Information act in late December 2006 the government never had any intention of releasing the discussions and had throughout opposed doing so, yet it continued to go along with the pretence of there being a possibility that they would nonetheless be released if the continual appeals were granted. This illusion of accountability has long been held out, whether it be through the introduction of the FoI itself, the Human Rights Act or through continual promised inquiries on various things, yet at each time it has been thwarted. Nothing could be more indicative than this than to repeatedly hold out hopes only then to dash them at the latest possible opportunity.

All this said, it's never been exactly clear what was hoped to be gained from the release of these exact cabinet discussions, mainly because we already know reasonably well that there is little of any great interest in them, which is also why it's so perplexing that the government has refused to do so. We already have for instance Robin Cook's book on his resignation and its wider issues, where he went into some detail on the cabinet discussions leading up to the war, and the major disagreements and challenging of the policy all happened long before March 03. By then it was only Cook and Clare Short who were dissenting, and this is further backed up by the similar accounts in Alastair Campbell's diaries, flecked by his loathing and venom against Short. Short herself has said much the same thing, that there was little if any actual discussion of the legality of the war and the change in position by Lord Goldsmith. The real interest is what went on behind the scenes, with many alleging that Goldsmith was extensively lent on to change his opinion, even begged to do so. That he was malleable in his legal opinion was illustrated by his role in the BAE-Serious Fraud Office slush fund inquiry, which makes it even less unbelievable that he relented in the face of such pressure.

Instead the real reason for withholding the minutes might well be embarrassment, as others have also pointed out, regarding Blair's casual form of "sofa government", as it became known, where little was discussed and all the major decisions were left with Tony himself and his inner circle. Cabinet meetings instead became like a perverse version of "show and tell", individual ministers invited to inform the rest of the class of what they'd got up to since the last meeting, with little analysis or debate about the major issues. This is disputed in some quarters, but is certainly the picture that again leaps out from Campbell's diaries, only on rare occasions there being any dissent.

The arguments made by both Straw and the Tories, as well as the Blairite apologist Martin Kettle that the release of cabinet minutes would undermine the smooth running of government by making the confidential discussions which go on a matter of the public record are all false ones. The tribunal itself declared that this was an exceptional case, which is what it was. There is nothing more serious than the agreement to go to war and the discussion of the legal basis for that is of fundamental importance, even if it turns out that very little of consequence was actually said. The fear is that this would somehow lead to a free for all, with Kettle suggesting people would want to know the same about the discussions over the third runway for Heathrow, or that as a result they would say what people thought they wanted to hear rather than what they actually thought, putting all the real decisions completely behind closed doors and not where it will eventually come out. The former is a logical fallacy because the tribunal would obviously not subsequently go back on its word on lesser issues, and furthermore, the claim that the more important the discussion the more important the confidentiality is one that is designed to keep the public in the dark. Secondly, the idea that decisions and the real important discussions do not already occur behind closed doors and in the margins and corridors is laughable: Labour's first ten years in power was characterised by just that. One of Brown's few improvements has been that more decisions and debates do seem to have occurred in cabinet, or at least more of them have been leaked to the press, including the bust-ups and almost violent disagreements which have occurred. That this release would exacerbate the desire for complete secrecy is little more than a deflective measure.

With all this in mind, the decision not to publish is baffling. When there is little chance of there being anything in embarrassing or revelatory in the minutes, why are they should apparently scared of the consequences? The anger about the Iraq war has now long dissipated except amongst a distinct minority, directly correlated to the decline in the number of bodies in bags returning to Brize Norton. It's with a piece with the refusal to hold a full independent inquiry until every single British item is back home, when again the chief perpetrator has now left the building. Brown of course financed the war, and didn't speak out against it, and is therefore complicit, but few are going to throw the book at him on this rather than on other more pressing issues which he was and is at the direct centre of. Instead perhaps this is something to do with Straw himself: he is almost the last relic of the old regime left at the top directly associated with the war. The person who did his master's bidding then, and also instituted the FoI itself, is now very conveniently the person to slam shut the door of openness. They have never been held to account for Iraq, and now they want to ensure that at least while in power itself they never are. The old adage in journalism was to publish and be damned. This government is too cowardly to do the former and determined not to be the latter.

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Glen Jenvey fallout widens.

The fallout from the Sun's publishing of the claims of Glen Jenvey on its front page continues to grow - now Alan Sugar himself is starting legal action against the paper, claiming that its publication of the story put his security at risk, rather, it seems, than Ummah.com and its marauding Islamic fanatics with their letters of hate. It remains unclear exactly what Sugar is claiming, although it seems more than likely that he'll be after some sort of settlement, which when libelled in the past he has donated to charity. In any event, the Sun must be deeply regretting its incredibly poor journalism and how much it might potentially cost it, with both a PCC investigation and now a legal battle on its hands.

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Monday, February 23, 2009 

More on Qatada.

Andy Worthington has probably the last word for now on Abu Qatada in an excellent post calling for the introduction of intercept evidence.

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Grayling's Conservatives: somehow worse than New Labour.

For those of us who are now becoming resigned to the sad fact that there is very real little difference between Labour and the Conservatives, and that even on some measures Tory policies are incredibly, conceivably to the left of Labour's, it sometimes takes a speech like today's by Chris Grayling, the latest non-entity to fill David Davis's rightful position, to bring you back to earth with a bump.

Unsurprisingly, the issue is crime/law and order. Ever since the death of James Bulger, which New Labour at the time shamelessly exploited, just as the Conservatives today equally shamelessly claim that the country is broken, there has been a devastatingly destructive war on who can be seen to be tougher. This war has delivered in Labour's approaching 12 years in power over 3,000 new offences and over 80,000 now locked up in prisons which are bursting at the seams. This has came against the backdrop of what is an unprecedented drop in crime (PDF) (with only a very few rejecting both the British Crime Survey and police's separate findings), the reasons for which are not clear, although the influence of policy itself is probably relatively minor when compared to demographic changes, especially an ageing population and an increase in general prosperity, hence the concern about a rise as we enter what looks like being a lengthy recession.

At the same time as this drop, the coverage of everyday disturbances and random, violent, vicious attacks has increased exponentially. Violent crime, for example, according to the BCS, peaked in 1995 and has been falling ever since; paradoxically, the police have recorded, since the statistics changed in 2002/03 and became incomparable with the previous ones, that violence has increased by 25%, hence the terrifying claims by politicians (including Grayling) that violent crime has risen by something like 80%, which it may have done if you're reasonably selective with the specific police figures. By any reasonable measure, Labour has lived up to its promise to be tough on crime; it has failed miserably, however, to be tough on its causes. To be fair, one is reasonably easy while the other is reasonably difficult. No prizes for guessing which is which.

Grayling is intent on being both, but if he does indeed become Home Secretary, you can be sure that it'll be the former that he'll implement and the latter which he will disregard, if indeed the Tories' policies on curing our "broken society" don't in fact make things worse. In any event, he begins with an example:

Let me tell you a story about life in Britain today. It was told me by the father of a serving soldier, who will be risking his life for us in Afghanistan this spring.

He was home on leave and was out in his local town centre when he was the victim of an unprovoked attack from behind by two youths. He was able to hold them off and the police were called.

He was left badly bruised after what was a completely unpremeditated attack.

The two young men were arrested, but then extraordinarily they were let off with a caution.

That's life in Britain today.

A nation where we appear so used to a violent assault of this kind that police only deem it fit for a caution.

And where the incidence of an attack like this is routine and not a rare exception.


Well, no, it isn't really extraordinary. You can quibble, but we don't know the exact circumstances of what happened here: this may well have been a first offence for both men; first offences invariably result in cautions, and as the only injury they seem to have inflicted was bad bruising, this doesn't really seem that outlandish or outrageous. It may be to the victim, but in all of these cases either the police or the Crown Prosecution Service will have decided whether it was in the public interest or not to bring the matter to court; they decided it wasn't. Grayling can want every such incident to be prosecuted, but he might decide otherwise when the court system becomes even further clogged up, when the prison population rises, and by the effect it has on those who find themselves with a criminal record and automatically excluded from an increasing number of jobs for what might have been a completely out of character incident influenced by alcohol or drugs. This is why prison and prosecuting need to be incredibly carefully considered: to declare across the board that everyone who does something should automatically be charged and if found guilty sent to prison, with the exception of the most serious crimes, is to ignore the nuances and multiple reasons for the original offence.

The real cause for concern comes very early on, and sets the tone for the rest:

It's time we dealt with the wrongs against society - not just the rights of their perpetrators.

Fewer rights, more wrongs.


Doubtless Grayling just intends this as a flippant, populist remark, not intended to be taken as a statement of intent. Yet a time where few deny that we are facing an unprecedented reduction of liberty and where rights are being routinely curtailed at the expense of supposed security, this is a truly dangerous statement to make, and also seems to completely miss the current mood.

Next Grayling tries to paint a picture of a country disentegrating:

Another snapshot of a broken society.

Where antisocial behaviour is endemic.

Where violence has become a norm.

Where the offenders don't seem to give a damn.

Where carrying weapons is increasingly the norm.

Where families can be terrorised by teenage gangs.

Where pensioners are in fear of their safety from the troublemakers outside their houses.

Where too many communities are being disrupted by things that just shouldn't be happening.


On almost every one of these measures, the figures tend to suggest things are in fact improving; whether that continues during a recession is of course uncertain. This is of no concern to a politician who has a point to make, but such febrile exaggeration, which itself further scares people into imagining they will be victims of such behaviour, is unhelpful in the extreme. Grayling goes further by challenging the whole nature of what is defined as anti-social instead of criminal:

Worse still, many of the things that disrupt our society are now treated as almost a norm.

That's not good enough.

I call it crime - when somebody vandalises a bus stop - that's not anti-social it's criminal.


Indeed it is, and it's recorded as a crime.

When somebody shouts at an old person in the street and leaves them shaking and scared - that's not antisocial behaviour - that's criminal.

Err, no it isn't. As unpleasant as it might be, no crime has been committed, unless we intend to make shouting in the street an offence. What would the punishment be for committing this transgression?

When a teenager jumps on a car bonnet - that's not antisocial behaviour - it's criminal.

Not unless the jumping on the bonnet causes damage to the car - are we going to create a specific offence of jumping on a car bonnet to cover it?

This behaviour is far worse than being anti-social, it's anti-society.

And so Grayling adds even further to the Unspeak of political language. What exactly does anti-society mean? Can someone jumping on a car bonnet really be said to want to destroy society, which would be the presumed meaning of such a term?

The infuriating thing about Grayling's speech is that some of the analysis is spot-on - much of the passage about the causes of crime is accurate, although I would demure from his claim that it's a deep rooted issue affecting almost all of the country, which is bordering on being nonsense on stilts. It's just in the policy, which is of course crucial, where he falls completely down. He states that the government doesn't know what to do about it, but the truth is that no one does. He can only claim to know, without knowing what effect those policies he wants will in actuality have. He also, as previously noted, selectively uses crime figures to paint an alarming, inaccurate picture, such as here:

Violent crime is up almost 80% under Labour. Nearly 1.1 million violent crimes were recorded last year - half a million more than in 1998-99.

Robbery is up 27% under Labour.

Criminal damage is up past 1 million offences - that's nearly 3000 incidents each day.

There are over 400 serious knife crimes a week - 22,000 in one year.

Fatal stabbings up by a third.

Gun crime has nearly doubled under Labour - a gun crime was committed every hour in England and Wales in 2007-8.

Injuries from gun crime are up almost four fold.

And how has the Government responded?

By being soft on crime.


This is a page of diagrams and charts from the 2007/08 BCS which handily deals with some of these claims. The BCS, based on around 50,000 interviews, is regarded as more authoritative than the police figures which Grayling seems to be mainly relying on:

What then are Grayling's solutions? Almost uniquely a step in the wrong direction:

Letting people out of prison early - that's soft on crime

Since Gordon Brown came to power 47,000 people have been released on early release, including 9,000 convicted of violence against the person.

Nearly 1000 crimes have been committed by criminals who have been released early.


Grayling doesn't offer an alternative to letting them out on early release, presumably for the reason that there isn't one. We cannot build ourselves out of an overcrowding crisis, or at least not quickly enough. 1,000 crimes committed by over 47,000 released early in fact seems to be an incredibly low figure, going by the re-offending figures which suggest that over half re-offend. There is very little here about actual prison reform, which could have an effect on crime levels and help to increase genuine rehabilitation, but that doesn't make for as good rhetoric as being tough on crime will.

Rejects our calls for a presumption of prison for those carrying a knife.

Lets five out of six offenders convicted of knife possession off without a jail sentence.


Automatically sending thos caught carrying a knife to prison is probably the worst use of jail that could possibly be envisaged, and designed to further embitter those who carry it out of fear that just one time, who find themselves being made an example of in the very worst case of "sending a message". The less direct restrictions on a judge's personal discretion the better.

After a couple of old Blair quotes, we have something approaching Grayling's thoughts on what to do on targeting the causes of crime:

In true backstreet fashion, Gordon Brown took all four wheels off welfare reform back in the 1990s when he disagreed with Frank Field thinking the unthinkable. He left it on four piles of bricks for a decade, and only now have we persuaded them to start to be as radical as is needed. Even so, we've still only had words and not action.

Is there any evidence that Purnell's or the Tories' welfare reform will have any great impact on crime? Not much, unless you consider that it might in fact increase it when you effectively impoverish a distinct minority as may well happen, especially to the young people that Grayling previously proposed should form "chain gangs" if they couldn't find a job within 3 months or actively refused one. Prison looks attractive by comparison. Then there's a piece of evidence which directly contradicts the entire Conservative message on the "broken society":

Recent analysis suggests that around 2% of families - or 140,000 families across Britain - experience complex and multiple problems. When parents experience difficulties in their own lives, it can have a serious and lasting effect on both their and their families lives. The consequences of family breakdown can influence the rest of peoples individual lives and may also carry significant costs for public services and the wider community.

That 2% undoubtedly affects a far larger proportion than it actually makes up, but 2% does not a broken society make. Again though, that simply wouldn't make for effective rhetoric. 2% of our society is broken doesn't have the same ring to it.

The area which stands as a totem of Labour's failures to get to grips with the causes of crime is drugs.

UK drug abuse is the worst in Europe. A report by the UK Drug Policy Commission found that the UK has the highest level of problem drug use and the second highest level of drug-related deaths in Europe.

The UK is the cocaine capital of Europe. A report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction, which compared drug use in 28 countries in Europe, revealed that the UK has the highest proportion of cocaine users amongst adults and 15 and 16 years olds.

The UK has the third highest teenage cannabis use in the OECD.

Half of prisoners are drug addicts - some prisons report up to 80% of inmates testing positive for class A drugs on reception.

Drug offences are up 68% - there were 228,958 recorded drug offences in 2007-8 - that's more than 600 per day.


He states all this, but he doesn't ask why. Why are we so dependent on drugs, in comparison to the rest of Europe? Is it something wrong with our work-life balance? And then there's the whole message which this also gives: prohibition has comprehensively failed. It's time that we tried legalisation, yet that is completely anathema to the Conservatives, more so even than it is to the evidence-ignoring New Labour. Having addressed the causes, or rather listed them rather than addressed them, he cops out completely:

But tackling the causes of crime was a key part of my last job. If I am Home Secretary after the next election, my job is very simple - to be tough on crime.

A good soundbite, but a staggering lack of aspiration and ambition, those very things that government constantly wants to inculcate, for any politician.

We are then onto supposed concrete policies. A more sorry bunch could not be dreamt up, starting with some complete nonsense:

The first is to find a 21st century alternative to what would once have been a clip around the ear from the local bobby.

Plenty of teenagers stray off the straight and narrow sometimes.

But today there are no consequences when they do.


Really? No consequences whatsoever? Even if this were the case, shouldn't we be encouraging parents to put in consequences rather than relying on the law instead?

All too often if you look at the case of a fifteen or sixteen year old who is starting to commit serious crimes, you find a story of years of minor misdemeanours that have all too often gone unpunished.

That just can't be right.

I don't want to criminalise children - but I do want our police and our society to be able firmly to say No. Before those young people get used to flouting the law.

...

Ministers are now even proposing measures to move on ten year olds if they are causing trouble in the evenings. I don't think we should be shifting ten year olds out of their home areas - I think we should be sending them home to bed.

So I will instruct our police to remove young troublemakers from our streets altogether, not just move them on to disrupt a different street.

If police find young people doing something stupid out in their communities, I think we should give them the power, sometimes, to take them back to the Police Station and make their parents come and get them. For their own safety and protection as much as anything.

We're exploring the best way of making this possible but it's got to be the right thing in some cases.


This seems to be a recipe for ridding children and the young from the streets when no crime or otherwise has been committed, on the whim of the officers themselves. "Something stupid" - I can see that looking good in the legislation.

Our police should have powers to go straight to a magistrate and get an order against that troublemaker confining them to their homes for up to a month - except for during school hours. And if they break that curfew order they should expect to find themselves in the cells.

Grayling then doesn't want to criminalise children... except he does. He's talking about potentially "grounding" troublemakers, not potentially anyone who has ever committed any crime, with those who then break that order being sent to the cells. There is not just huge potential here for abuse and casual victimisation, but also again it's riding roughshod over parental responsibilities. They should be the ones grounding the child, not the courts, if indeed there are grounds to "grind" them in the first place. This is taking ASBOs and making them even worse.


In my own constituency, I've learned two lessons on tackling antisocial
behaviour from the local police.... that's when they've got it right.

A clash between two gangs of youths a few years ago was dealt with by thirty police, dogs and a helicopter overhead. The trouble has never been repeated.


Grayling is MP for the mean streets of Epsom and Ewell. That there was no repeat doesn't mean that it was the police action which halted it; it might well have been an isolated incident which was patched up regardless of it. This is hardly evidence-based policy making.

There is now a strong case to end Labour's twenty-four hour drinking regime. It has not created a continental café culture - it has just made things worse in many town and city centres.

Except this is the opposite of the truth, as John Band noted. We do have a drinking problem, but again we have to examine why that is rather than go back to ridiculous previous laws which failed just as much.

The third thing we need to do is to stop the ridiculous system of cautions that has built up even for serious offences.

Remember that young soldier, beaten up by local hoodlums.

Why did the police choose to caution the offenders?

Because issuing a caution means case closed - a tick in the box - a crime solved for the official figures to be sent to the Home Office.

And avoiding the danger that the Crown Prosecution Service will say - three young men, a fight - too difficult to prove so we won't bother.

That's just not good enough.


Some cautions are undoubtedly down to a lack of imagination or lack of belief that it's worth going through the rigmarole of a court case, but for the most part they are actually usually the right punishment. Politicians shouldn't second guess police into ordering them to not issue cautions - that's just as bad as Labour's myriad of targets. If the Conservatives want to free police to do their jobs as much as possible, then they shouldn't put other restrictions on them either.

The fourth change we desperately need is that oldest political of political chestnuts. More police on the streets. More bobbies on the beat.

May as well stop it here, as again, the evidence suggests that "bobbies on the beat" is an incredibly bad way of using police resources. Nick Davies wrote a whole series on this back in 2003 which effectively debunked the entire idea. It still though remains the simplest and easiest way to win press and popular support.

Grayling finishes with a flourish:

The Conservatives are the party of law and order - law and order based on common sense, strong families and communities and a system which places the victim above the criminal.

Labour has had eleven years and they have collectively failed - their musical chairs based system of Home Secretaries has left Britain a more dangerous, less civilised place to live in.


Two more nonsensical paragraphs would be difficult to come up with. Anyone who makes allusions to common sense should be considered suspicious, when "common sense" is often the actual inverse of it, just as how if you say the reverse of what you've just said it probably tells you it isn't worth saying. The idea though that Labour's lack of continuous Home Secretaries has somehow made the country more dangerous and less civilised is hilarious: more accurate is that they've made the country less civilised through their criminal justice policies; getting rid of the lot of them and not having one at all could have undoubted beneficial effects. One thing however is clear from this dire, dismal, predictable speech: Chris Grayling and the Conservatives have the potential to be even worse than New Labour.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009 

Weekend links.

Seems like an exceptionally quiet weekend, so let's keep this short and reasonably sweet. The BNP's council by-election victory in Sevenoaks is causing concern - but by some of the coverage you'd imagine they were on the edge of a major breakthrough. They are not - and are not even close to it. There are worries that they might be able to win a European parliament seat, due to how the Europe elections are based on proportional representation, but even if they do, there is so little coverage, even in the broadsheet press, of affairs in Brussels and Strasbourg that the only victory will be one of breaking into mainstream attention again. We of course need to engage with those who are sympathetic towards the BNP, and challenge the party's smears and lies, with the old tales about how the foreigners are stealing all the houses apparently being top of concerns in Sevenoaks, but going in the opposite direction only helps them further. Blairwatch comments further on the upcoming Euro elections.

Elsewhere on the blogs, Paul Linford provides his usual weekly article, this time on how Gordon Brown's authority is draining away, Sunny critiques the Civitas report on Islamic schools in typical fashion, while Shiraz Socialist asks if anyone will support the right for Fred Phelps to come here as they did Geert Wilders - I would, as would Rhetorically Speaking and the Heresiarch. Lee Griffin further notes Italy's dissent into authoritarianism, while Hopi Sen agrees that Brown should apologise - just not necessarily in the way that some want him to.

In the papers, Peter Oborne argues that this is a government in collapse, while Matthew Parris suggests that voters simply don't care any more. Deborah Orr writes on the Cambridge review into primary schooling, while Geoffrey Wheatcroft makes a point which ought to be obvious: that money and good judgement don't mix. Article of the weekend is undoubtedly Ben Goldacre's systematic destruction of the claims that British soldiers had seized £50m worth of heroin in Afghanistan, but it's well worth pointing out that Transform had already done exactly the same on Wednesday.

As for the worst tabloid article of the weekend we have a few contenders. One is the Sun's editorial comment on Jade Goody. It's worth quoting the whole nauseating thing in full and then comparing it against some previous comments from the Sun on the now sainted Goody:

LET’S all raise a toast to Jade Goody tomorrow as her dying wish comes true.

Clad in a gorgeous cream silk gown, Jade will become a bride and marry her devoted sweetheart Jack Tweed.

Tragically, there will be no anniversaries for Jade and Jack.

Death will part them too soon.

The wedding night Justice Secretary Jack Straw is letting them spend together may be one of very few they have as man and wife.

But tomorrow, Jade insists, is for joy not despair.

Amid the cake and champagne, the laughter and the kisses, Jade will know the special happiness that only a girl on her wedding day can experience.

By her side will be her proud young sons. Surrounding her will be the family, friends and celebs she loves the most.

The Sun’s warmest congratulations go to Jade and Jack on their marriage.

And Jade should be uplifted by the huge response to our Jade’s Legacy campaign, which aims to cut deaths from cervical cancer.

As Jade’s life moves towards its close, Britain has taken her more than ever to its heart.

When she walks down that aisle tomorrow, the nation will be by her side.


Also worth remembering is that her partner was in prison for a vicious assault on a man with a golf club - someone who would otherwise be derided in the Sun as a despicable yob is given the front page to declare his love, via Max Clifford, naturally.

That isn't the worst though. Another contender is the perennial favourite, Amanda Platell, who is livid about school children being asked to think about something. Such thought experiments can only lead to subversion and a destruction of our morals and values. Winner though for sheer hilarious hypocrisy is the Mail publishing an article by a former Cosmopolitan editor titled "Degrading, disgusting, and demeaning: I'm ashamed of modern women's magazines." That's also a perfect description of Femail, and here are some of its greatest hits.

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Friday, February 20, 2009 

Scum-watch: Pathetic apoplexy over Qatada's compensation.

It was to be expected that regardless of the level of payout, the Sun was bound to be outraged by the paying of compensation to Abu Qatada and the other men detained illegally at Belmarsh. Quite why it or anyone else is so surprised that the ECHR awarded compensation is a mystery: a more flagrant breach of both the right to liberty and a fair trial is difficult to imagine, regardless of the threat the men are said to pose. These norms and values are however ones which the Sun and some politicians have no intention of respecting when they are so apparently inimical to common sense.

The Sun's opening paragraph could hardly be more partisan:

A BARMY decision to award terror suspect Abu Qatada and eight others £75,000 for a “breach” of their human rights sparked outrage yesterday.

Barmy and most certainly not a "breach" then. You have to wonder how the Sun would respond to a British citizen abroad being detained without charge for over three years, or indeed to a British citizen not accused of links with terrorism being detained here for over three years without charge. One suspects that their attitude might well be entirely different. That Qatada is a "terror suspect" is irrelevant: he has the same rights as everyone else, and to suggest otherwise is part of where we've gone wrong in attempting to fight the terror threat. Those accused of links with terrorism are fundamentally criminals, and need to be declared as such, with normal criminal prosecution taken against them. That this is itself is controversial is partially why compensation has now rightly been paid out.

Naturally, comparisons with the victims of the 7/7 attacks are brought in:

Survivors of the 7/7 attacks on London in 2005 last night compared the handout to their own battle for compensation.

Jackie Putnam, 58, from Huntingdon, Cambs, suffered memory loss and trauma.

She said: “It seems the rules are there to protect the bad guys and the good ones get pushed aside. The suspects have won justice but there has been little or none of it for the victims of 7/7.”

Victim’s dad Mr Foulkes, of Oldham, Greater Manchester, added: “I despair when I hear of a decision like this, then I get angry because it rubs salt in the wounds.”


None of those given compensation have any link whatsoever to 7/7 to begin with, unless you can somehow make a case that they were inspired by Qatada, something I haven't seen made before. Equally, Putnam might well be referring to justice in the sense of bringing those other than bombers themselves involved to book, but if she's referring purely to compensation then there is no real comparison. Back in 2007 the government had already paid out over £3 million to the victims of the attacks, while another £12 million from a dedicated charitable relief fund had also been distributed, sums which put the total of £75,000 and £2,500 to Qatada into stark relief.

For some unfathomable reason, David Cameron also has to stick his nose in. His contribution would be hilarious if it wasn't both so dire and craven:

Unbelievably, taxpayers are going to have to pay him and other terrorist suspects thousands in compensation for detaining them.

It could have been more, but I resent every penny.


Taxpayers can directly blame Cameron for having to pay him compensation: while he was absent or abstained from the vote on the legalisation which introduced indefinite detention without charge, he subsequently voted in 2004 for the renewal of it. Also, why is it unbelievable? Does Cameron not think that detaining anyone without charge indefinitely is beyond the pale?

You have to shake your head at his sheer shamelessness.

He comes to Britain illegally — we let him stay. In the aftermath of 9/11 we detain him fearing he was planning something.

We say he can leave detention if he leaves the country. He doesn’t.

He drags us through appeals at our own courts and the European Court and we have to pay him for the pleasure.


It's about time we challenged this nonsense about him coming here illegally - by definition the vast majority of those who come here and subsequently seek asylum enter the country illegally, mainly because they have no legal way of doing so. His entry was on a false passport, and if we want to be really picky about it, it was a Conservative government which let him stay. He wasn't detained because we feared he was planning something - he was detained simply because of his links to terrorism. Likewise, why on earth would he leave detention when he's a Palestinian by nationality and so cannot return there, and also quite understandably doesn't want to return to Jordan where he faces potential mistreatment and an unfair trial. Nowhere else will take him, hence he's stuck here. He drags us through all his layers of appeal, as is his right.

This case was not even about whether he might be tortured if returned home — just that he might not get a fair trial by our standards.

Why should it be our responsibility and what should we do about it?


Actually it was about whether he might be tortured - just that the judges rejected that part of his argument, while the appeal court accepted he would not face a fair trial, a decision now overturned by the Lords. Does Qatada not deserve a fair trial "by our standards"?

First, we should have stronger border controls. A Conservative government will set up a dedicated Border Police force.

If dangerous people slip through, we should bring them to justice.


And will this border force stop those with false passports getting in and then claiming asylum? Of course not.

A Conservative government will tear up the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, so we can deal with human rights issues more sensibly.

It makes a mockery of human rights if we can’t protect ourselves against people who are out to destroy them for everyone else.


Will the Conservatives also then be withdrawing from the Council of Europe, and thus leaving the ECHR altogether? All the HRA does is institute the ECHR in British law; all tearing it up will do is mean those seeking justice will have to wait far longer before they receive it. We also have "protected ourselves" from Qatada, as the Lords judgement showed. The people who make a real mockery of human rights are those that deny they are both universal and that want to make it more difficult for the average person to seek recompense, which is exactly what the Conservatives' position will do.

On then to the Scum's incredibly poorly argued leader:

YESTERDAY was a humiliation for Britain.

We have been ordered by Europe to pay thousands to terror suspects such as Abu Qatada simply because we locked them up to keep our streets safe.

Note that throughout the Sun claims we've been ordered to do this by "Europe". The ECHR does not represent Europe: it is simply a European institution, one which we had a major hand in creating. The Sun's constant conflation of the EU with the ECHR is both misleading and almost certainly deliberate, designed to cause further apoplexy at unaccountable institutions when it simply isn't the case. It also wasn't a "humiliation": the real humiliation was that we were the only nation in Europe post 9/11 which felt that the threat to us was so serious that we had to abandon our own long-held values and liberties, while all the others got on perfectly as they had been, despite similar threats to them also. The idea that we locked up Qatada and the others to keep our streets safe is also ludicrous: if we'd really wanted to do that we would have prosecuted them, not detained them illegally and afterwards even allowed Qatada out on bail.

Worse, this disgraceful ruling means our money could well end up funding weapons to attack our own Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Qatada and eight other extremists must be paid £75,000 between them in compensation and costs, rules Europe’s crackpot Human Rights Court.

Who is to say the money won’t be recycled into the back pockets of al-Qaeda?


Considering that four of those given compensation have already been deported, that Qatada is in prison and that the others are still on control orders, the chances of any of the money going on weapons to attack forces or to al-Qaida is incredibly slim to non-existent. Even if some did, I hate to break it to the Sun but £2,500 doesn't buy a lot of weaponry; it might barely cover a couple of decent guns. That al-Qaida and other terrorist groups have other rather more dependable sources of cash then those locked up over here is something of a understatement. The costs of course won't go to the men, but rather to their lawyers.

This is the lowest moment since Labour’s catastrophic decision to enforce European human rights laws in Britain.

We have to go cap in hand to a monster like Abu Qatada with a cheque from the very British taxpayers he wants murdered.


The lowest moment since the last lowest moment, obviously. The only thing catastrophic about the HRA to the Sun is that it potentially affects its business model, as we have noted in the past. If we didn't want to have to pay Qatada compensation, we shouldn't have acted illegally; it's pretty damn simple.

Europe’s human rights laws have made this country a laughing stock. We could be funding terrorists to buy guns to shoot our own soldiers.

Is that the third time in a very short article that the Sun's made the same argument? Hasn't that barrel been scraped enough? Do I really need to say again that "Europe's" human rights laws are as much our creation as anyone else's?

We can’t endure the shame of this any longer. We have to change the law.

Britain’s safety must come before pandering to Europe.


So, as previously stated, we're going to both abolish the HRA and withdraw from the ECHR, yes? The idea that we're pandering in any way to Europe is ludicrous: we're simply operating as every other democracy in Europe does, including the authoritarian likes of Russia, which is also signed up to the ECHR. The idea that we would withdraw from it while Russia stayed would make us the real laughing stock, a country which abandons its principles to fight a pathetic threat that has been ridiculously exaggerated. The Sun, as ever, only has its own real interest at heart.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009 

Even "terrorist suspects" deserved more.

It must have come as a great disappointment to the Daily Mail hacks that despite their predictions that Abu Qatada and the others illegally detained without charge at Belmarsh from 2002 to 2005 were about to receive hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation from the European Court of Human Rights that the actual amount turned out to be a rather less outrageous £2,500, rising to over £3,000 for those detained longest. Even this miserly amount was condemned by the Conservatives as "horrifying", when the only thing horrifying about it was that it wasn't far far higher.

In that, the ECHR seems to have decided to be cautious. In its ruling it even accepted the frankly bogus assertion from the government, used to justify the detention without charge for foreign "terrorist suspects" who supposedly couldn't be tried, that there was a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation". This country has only ever faced a public emergency threatening the life of the nation once, from 1939 up until 1944, when the possibility of the Nazis launching an invasion had drastically rescinded. The very notion that somehow the likes of Abu Qatada and the other detainees posed a threat similar to then was insulting in the extreme.

We really ought to set out in detail what the detention without charge or trial amounted to. It meant that someone (as long as they were a foreign national, or in Qatada's case, stripped of their asylum status so they could be designated as one) could be accused of being involved in terrorism, where either the evidence was inadmissable or too flimsy to be brought before a court, and on that basis locked up indefinitely in one our flagship highest security prisons. You were not allowed to know what the evidence was against you, in order to challenge it; your case was instead dealt with by a special advocate appointed by the court. In short, you could only really challenge your detention as a whole by arguing that there was no real threat to the life of the nation, and that therefore the derogation from article 5 of the ECHR was unlawful. This was what the law lords ruled in December 2004. The entire Kafkaesque situation had a devastating effect on the detainees' mental health, as could have been predicted; almost all of them were prescribed anti-depressants, another attempted suicide and Abu Rideh, one of the few to be named and also awarded compensation today, repeatedly harmed himself. He was last known to be seriously ill from a hunger strike in protest at his continuing restriction of liberty under a control order. A stateless Palestinian confined to a wheelchair, the idea that he posed a threat to anyone was always laughable. Yet he too along with the others was only given a small lump sum as the ECHR ruled that their treatment did not amount to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Alan Travis points out the staggering difference between payouts, mentioning that the ECHR had previously awarded £5,500 to a British man who had been unlawfully detained for only 6 days. Some of those held were kept in custody for over 3 years before being released onto the only slightly less onerous control orders. In some cases this amounts to just over £2 compensation for each day spent illegally in custody. Put it this way: if this had happened to British citizens, and not those accused of involvement in terrorism, regardless of the fact that none have ever had to face the accusations in an actual trial, they would have been looking at compensation in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands, as Qatada had initially demanded. The ECHR seems to have decided not to inflame the tabloids further than they already have been; politically wise perhaps, but cowardly in its own way.

Less cowardly was another part of the ruling, which has finally struck a blow directly against the process of the Special Immigration Appeals Committees, where those before them are routinely denied access to the evidence held against them, making it almost impossible for them to be able to adequately challenge it. The ECHR ruled that in some of the cases, although not in all, that this was constituted another breach of article 5. It's unclear what this means for the continuation of SIAC: the ECHR accepted that where more extended information had been provided to those detained without charge, that there had not been breach of the right to a fair trial. This most likely means that the government, rather than being forced to scrap what amounts to little more than a kangaroo court, albeit an independent one, will simply have to hand over slightly more information than it otherwise would have done. A partial victory it might be, but a welcome one nonetheless.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009 

Abu Qutata?

The somewhat surprising decision by the House of Lords to overturn Abu Qatada's successful appeal against his deportation to Jordan is a faintly disturbing one. Qatada's appeal, although based on what he claims would be breaches of various articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, was only upheld on article 6, the right to a fair trial. The Special Immigration Appeals Committee, which hears evidence in secret and where the appellants are represented by special advocates, had already held that despite Jordan's undoubted deficiencies in its legal system, Qatada's deportation could only be thrown out if there was likely to be a "flagrant" breach of his right to a fair trial under article 6.

The law lords, in turn, have agreed with the initial decision and threw out the appeal court's ruling that SIAC had erred in not putting enough weight on the possibility that the evidence against Qatada was the result of torture. Lord Phillips, in the ruling, argues (paragraph 153):

I do not accept, however, the conclusion that he has derived from this, namely that it required a high degree of assurance that evidence obtained by torture would not be used in the proceedings in Jordan before it would be lawful to deport Mr Othman to face those proceedings. As Buxton LJ observed, the prohibition on receiving evidence obtained by torture is not primarily because such evidence is unreliable or because the reception of the evidence will make the trial unfair. Rather it is because “the state must stand firm against the conduct that has produced the evidence". That principle applies to the state in which an attempt is made to adduce such evidence. It does not require this state, the United Kingdom, to retain in this country to the detriment of national security a terrorist suspect unless it has a high degree of assurance that evidence obtained by torture will not be adduced against him in Jordan. What is relevant in this appeal is the degree of risk that Mr Othman will suffer a flagrant denial of justice if he is deported to Jordan. As my noble and learned friend Lord Hoffmann said in Montgomery v H M Advocate [2003] 1 AC 641, 649

“…an accused who is convicted on evidence obtained from him by torture has not had a fair trial. But the breach of article 6(1) lies not in the use of torture (which is, separately, a breach of article 3) but in the reception of the evidence by the court for the purposes of determining the charge".


The reason why this decision is so troubling is obvious: the Lords have not only ruled that they accept that the trial Qatada is likely to face in Jordan would not reach the standards we would demand under article 6, but also that it's additionally likely that the evidence against him is the product of torture, as he himself claims. This however does not still add up to what the Lords would consider to be a "flagrant" breach of article 6, which is the threshold at which deporting Qatada to Jordan would be unlawful.

Qatada is quite understandably taking his case to his last port of call, the European Court itself, where the ruling could quite possibly turn out to be another landmark, similar to Chalal vs United Kingdom. Nothing should as yet be ruled out, as the House of Lords ruling is in itself something of a surprise, and one which has been criticised by all the main human rights groups.

It has to be said that it is a horrifically difficult decision to have to make, one which Lord Hope authoratitavely comments on at the beginning of his own argument, something well worth quoting in full:

209. Most people in Britain, I suspect, would be astonished at the amount of care, time and trouble that has been devoted to the question whether it will be safe for the aliens to be returned to their own countries. In each case the Secretary of State has issued a certificate under section 33 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Immigration Act 2001 that the aliens’ removal from the United Kingdom would be conducive to the public good. The measured language of the statute scarcely matches the harm that they would wish to inflict upon our way of life, if they were at liberty to do so. Why hesitate, people may ask. Surely the sooner they are got rid of the better. On their own heads be it if their extremist views expose them to the risk of ill-treatment when they get home.

210. That however is not the way the rule of law works. The lesson of history is that depriving people of its protection because of their beliefs or behaviour, however obnoxious, leads to the disintegration of society. A democracy cannot survive in such an atmosphere, as events in Europe in the 1930s so powerfully demonstrated. It was to eradicate this evil that the European Convention on Human Rights, following the example of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948, was prepared for the Governments of European countries to enter into. The most important word in this document appears in article 1, and it is repeated time and time again in the following articles. It is the word “everyone". The rights and fundamental freedoms that the Convention guarantees are not just for some people. They are for everyone. No one, however dangerous, however disgusting, however despicable, is excluded. Those who have no respect for the rule of law - even those who would seek to destroy it - are in the same position as everyone else.

211. The paradox that this system produces is that, from time to time, much time and effort has to be given to the protection of those who may seem to be the least deserving. Indeed it is just because their cases are so unattractive that the law must be especially vigilant to ensure that the standards to which everyone is entitled are adhered to. The rights that the aliens invoke in this case were designed to enshrine values that are essential components of any modern democratic society: the right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to liberty and the right to a fair trial. There is no room for discrimination here. Their protection must be given to everyone. It would be so easy, if it were otherwise, for minority groups of all kinds to be persecuted by the majority. We must not allow this to happen. Feelings of the kind that the aliens’ beliefs and conduct give rise to must be resisted for however long it takes to ensure that they have this protection.


That's around as detailed and sound an argument against the tabloid case for kicking them out immediately that could possibly be made. It's therefore a shame that Lords have effectively ruled that both unfair trials and evidence obtained by torture, as long as both occur outside the countries which have signed up to the ECHR and as long as the breach is not deemed to be "flagrant" are in some way acceptable. It's true that this is not their argument, which is as legally sound as it could possibly be, but that is in effect what they have decided. It comes, as we have seen, at a time when our own connivance with torture is being exposed as never before, when questions are being raised about how deeply involved we have been during the initial stage of the so-called war on terror with almost routine breaches of international law. It gives the impression, however undeserved, that our own values concerning such practices are becoming more jaded and diluted just when the opposite should be the case.

Fundamentally, the extended legal drama concerning Qatada should not have ever even began. If Qatada is as dangerous as the government claims he is, and if he is indeed guilty of inciting racial hatred and radicalising Muslims as he is accused of doing, the question remains why he cannot be tried here. Similarly, we still don't know just how involved Qatada was with our security services, when there are claims in the public domain that he was a double agent, albeit one it seems who is still reasonably well respected within takfirist jihadist circles. If the evidence against him cannot currently be considered outside of closed sessions, then intercept evidence needs to be introduced, although it needs to be in any event urgently. Both of these things should have been considered and potentially implemented before we resorted to simply getting rid of him, back to a country with a poor human rights record that by our own courts' admission would not reach our own standards regarding a fair trial. Instead we seem to be making compromises regarding torture that we need not be. That is an indictment of our politicians, rather than our courts of law.

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