Good news!

December 2022

In a year when many aspects concerning human rights are depressing, we are pleased – particularly at this time of the year – to report some good news this time from the state of Oregon.

In Oregon, the outgoing Governor, Kate Brown (Democrat), is commuting the sentences of the 17 prisoners currently on death row to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and dismantling the State’s execution chamber in an effort finally to end capital punishment in Oregon. In practice, the death penalty has not been in use since 2011, and, while in office, Ms Brown has exercised her power to grant clemency more than any of the State’s previous Governors, citing personal growth as part of the reason for reducing a person’s sentence.  This final decision is based on her belief that the death penalty is immoral, a waste of money, and does not make communities safer.   The incoming Governor, Tina Kotek, is also a Democrat. Obviously, under the existing circumstances, the 17 prisoners were unlikely to have been executed anyway, but what a relief it must be to have their actual sentences commuted.  The Republicans are reported not to be happy – at least one saying it should have been put to ’the people’.

The Death Penalty Information Center reports that in a year that featured massive campaign advertising attempting to portray legal reformers as responsible for increases in violent crime, candidates committed to criminal legal reform or who promised to continue state-wide moratoria on executions posted key election wins in the 2022 midterm elections. Defying a pre-election narrative forecasting a backlash against progressive prosecutors and conventional wisdom that fear of crime drives political outcomes, reform prosecutors were re-elected to office and gained new footholds in counties across the country.

There is an interesting post on the Oregon State’s Department of Corrections website on the history, use of and methods of execution as it operates there.

December minutes

December 2022

We are pleased to attach the minutes of the December group meeting thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them. They contain the usual abridged version of the death penalty report and a report on the refugee situation. Group events are listed including the carol signing evening. Those wishing to join us are welcome to pop by to one of these and say hello.

Conservatives and the ECHR

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, wants to take the UK out of the ECHR

December 2022

This post is based on an interesting article in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper, written by Martin Kettle, concerning the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman’s desire to take the UK out of the European Court of Human Rights. Some of the piece concerned his thoughts of the future of Rishi Sunak which is a political discussion upon which we do not comment. Our concerns focus on human rights implications of Braverman’s wishes to take the UK out of the purview of the ECHR.

Kettle notes that the proposed withdrawal is not Conservative Party policy, nor was is it in the latest manifesto in 2019. This indicates that Ms Braverman is operating on her own. The Home Secretary is one of a number of Conservatives (but by no means all) who see the ECHR as a kind of constraint to their ability to manage the nation’s affairs most particularly in connection with refugees and immigration.

This erupted a few months ago with the last minute abandonment of the flight to Rwanda (which was to take place a stones throw from where this post is written), in which the European Court played a key part. Immigrants crossing the Channel in small boats has been a regular news feature over many months and has caused considerable anger among many. As was noted in our last post, by denying safe and legal means to apply to come here, those desperate to escape war or persecution are more or less forced to use these means. When Suella Braverman was questioned about this last week in front of a select committee, neither she nor her PPS, were able to able to provide a convincing answer.

Kettle goes on to say that the arguments around human rights law “encapsulates and stimulates the Tory party’s haphazard retreat into a bubble of English exceptionalism. Whether it is expressed by Braverman or Dominic Raab, the common threads of this are a bogus sense of victimhood (exemplified by the delusion that Britain is uniquely affected by migration) and belief in greatness frustrated (the lies of Brexit) and an impatience with conventional wisdom in favour of reckless contrarianism”.

One of the party’s electoral strengths over many decades was that it claimed to be the party of law and order. Tougher and longer sentencing, crackdowns on this or that crime, support for the police and other actions enabled it to claim that they were the party to vote for if you wanted to sleep safely in your bed at night. Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General, has noted that today’s ministers seem to display ‘a persistent and almost endemic frustration with legal constraints‘. A combination of rage by some sections of the media about the Channel crossings, combined with their large majority, seems to lead them to believe they can ignore domestic law, international laws and treaties. Laws which stand in the way of ministers pursuing a particular goal are fit only to be ignored or discarded.

In his recent talk to the Judicial Institute (6 December 2022) he refers to the ‘novel constitutional position: that governments are enjoying the confidence of a parliamentary majority have essentially a popular mandate to do whatever they like and that any obstruction of this is unacceptable’ (p10). He points out that this is not the monopoly of the Conservatives – Labour when in power went cold on the HRA and secretly aided American renditions post 9/11. This idea that the law is of value only if it suits the policy position of the government in power is a dangerous one. It goes against the Common Law principle which is key our unwritten constitution. Combined with a belief that a large majority means the public at large are at one with this is also an assumption too far. When there was a Daily Mail assault on the judges putting their photos on the front page under a headline ‘Enemies of the People’ (4 December 2016), because they took a decision their editor did not like, it was noticeable that the then Attorney General, Liz Truss, did not condemn this.

Refugee report December

December 2022

This is the monthly Refugee report with thanks to group member Andrew. Refugees and immigration remain top of the list of concerns, and sometimes anger, by many members of the public. It’s to be regretted that there is little sign of serious debate among sections of the press and politicians. The Conservatives have made a number of promises to reduce numbers to the tens of thousands. The benefits of immigrants to our society seem lost to view.

As the numbers of asylum seekers arriving in the UK continues to grow, attention is turning to ideas for the future processing of claimants.  Among ideas put forward this month are from the think tank Demos with a suggestion to remove the asylum function from the Home Office to “Sanctuary UK”.

The Centre for Policy Studies has a new report out suggesting that “illegal” immigrants (anyone arriving by informal routes) should be refused, detained indefinitely and/or returned to a third country (e.g. Rwanda).  This is reputed to be the system applied in Australia.  The forward to the report was written by the Home Secretary, implying that she favours the ideas.  The UNHCR has criticised the use of the term “illegal” in the report.

It is also reported that the government is thinking to fast track the “white list” procedure, whereby persons arriving from the list of countries deemed to be safe have no right of asylum.  This is presently the case for Albania, to take a topical example, and the government plan seems to be to speed up the process of return for such claimants.

The problem of illegality was shown by the Home Secretary before the Home Affairs select committee, when she was unable to answer Conservative MP Tim Loughton’s question about what he – as a prospective asylum seeker from Africa – could do to come here legally. The answer from the Secretary and her aides was to go through the UNHCR.  It should be noted that the UNHCR approach was used by only 1,066 people in 2022.

It has been confirmed that £1bn of the UK aid budget has been spent on accommodating asylum seekers and refugees, rather than being spent in countries needing aid.

Looking at numbers, the latest net migration figures (the number arriving less the number leaving) is around 500,000, a larger than normal figure following the exceptional circumstances of Hong Kong and Ukraine, plus a large number of students arriving post-pandemic.

Arrivals in small boats account for 45% of claimants for asylum.

In the last couple of months, a number of cases of diphtheria have been found among Irregular arrivals. The 50 known cases have included 1 fatality.

The Home Office has produced a report on the reasons asylum seekers come to the UK, and their main conclusions are that social networks are important, but that neither economic benefits nor the perceived level of granting rights are particularly pull factors.

Finally, it has just been announced that Refugee Week 2023, the 25th in the series, will run from 19th to 25th June and the theme will be “compassion”…


Death penalty report Nov/Dec

December 2022

The latest death penalty report for November/December is now available thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it. At 8pp it shows there is a lot going on in the world and actions by Saudi authorities with their barbaric executions are particularly noteworthy. The distraction of the World Cup next door in Qatar no doubt helped to act as a shield. Note as ever that China remains the world’s worst executioner with numbers in the thousands but details are a state secret.

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