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.

Refugees, monthly report


Monthly report on the month’s developments in the UK – October 2022

With Parliament in recess over the period under review, little movement in the legal position of asylum seekers and refugees has taken place, but this will change from here on. The legality of the contentious plan to deport “failed” asylum seekers to Rwanda (notoriously a “dream” for the new Home Secretary) should be decided by the end of this month. The last batch of evidence is being heard today (12 October). The issue is expected to go to appeal, whichever way it is decided. A good summary of the position can be read here.

Much ink has been spilt on trying to figure out Ms Braverman’s plans, though her speech to the Conservative Party conference was not strong on detail. She has declared an interest in doing a deal with the French on boats (this may not be as easy as it sounds, but she has claimed that talks with the French have reduced the numbers by half. This is disputed). She is also keen to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (though the PM evidently isn’t).

The Home Secretary is also much exercised by Albania, as the numbers of Albanian asylum seekers has increased dramatically, and Albanians are known to be among the traffickers of migrants. However, more applicants from that country are being accepted than used to be the case, which suggests that Braverman’s claim that a lot of them are criminals pretending to be trafficking victims may not be true. For trafficking victims generally, more are being detained than was the case, but most are then found to be genuine.

Indeed, as noted previously, the rate of acceptance of asylum seekers’ claims is ever higher, from 4% in 1997 (plus 4% of the rest on appeal) to 76% now (plus 50% of the rest on appeal). Technical factors may account for some of this, but the change is remarkable.

Meanwhile, new refugees (now apparently termed “arriving passengers”) continue to land from small boats. This year so far (to 3rd October) 33,573 people have arrived here. Last year’s total figure was 28,526. The three biggest originating countries have been Albania, Afghanistan and Iran.

On the Ukrainian front, as of 4th October, 134,200 refugees had arrived here. A report from the Work Rights Centre has indicated difficulties with the support they are given; the housing scheme has seen a quarter of hosts withdraw after the 6 month initial period, due mainly to cost causing a big increase in homelessness among the community. Following the resignation some weeks ago of the minister in charge of government support for the Ukrainian arrivals, there has been no one in authority, it seems.

On a related topic, Russian men escaping the draft, although few in number, have raised issues of the extent to which refusing to fight is a refugee matter. The EU has a right to be a conscientious objector, but the debate is likely to range around the right to refuse to participate in war crimes.

AH

Sajid Javid breaches death penalty policy


Sajid Javid proposes allowing ISIL individuals to be sent to the USA with the risk of torture and execution

UPDATE: 1 August.  Article by Bharat Malkani in British Politics and Policy published by LSE which goes into the wider aspects of British policy in connection with executions on foreign soil. 

UPDATE: 26 July.  Following considerable protest over this decision, the government today announced a temporary suspension of the cooperation with the US over the case.

It has been widely reported today that the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, is withdrawing the long-standing objections the UK has had to sending people to the USA where they risk being executed. The USA is the only country in the Americas which still has the death penalty. We continue to document cases in our monthly reports.

The two individuals who are involved are Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, both from West London.  They were part of a group of individuals from the UK who joined ISIS and allegedly perpetrated some dreadful crimes including beheadings.  They allegedly murdered two US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and aid worker and Iraq war veteran Peter Kassig.  Investigations have been continuing for 4 years and the question has arisen of where they should be tried.

The UK government has a long-standing policy of opposing the death penalty abroad in all circumstances.  It has also been active in trying to persuade those countries which continue to use it, to stop.  Amnesty is opposed to the practice as it has a number of serious flaws.  It is ineffective in preventing crime and it is not a deterrent.  Mistakes cannot be put right.  In the case of terrorists, it risks creating martyrs and spawning others who want to avenge the executions.

It is therefore particularly depressing to see our home secretary acceding to the request.  The full text shows that it is because he believes a successful federal prosecution in the US is more likely to be possible because of differences in their statute book and the restrictions on challenges to the route by which defendants appear in US courts.  In his leaked letter to Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, he says on the matter of sending them to the States:

[…] All assistance and material will be provided on the condition that it may only be used for the purpose sought in that request, namely a federal criminal investigation or prosecution.

Furthermore, I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought.  From the letter published in the Mail Online [accessed 23 July 2018]

The decision has received widespread criticism.  Alan Howarth, the head of advocacy and programmes, at Amnesty International said:

This is a deeply worrying development.  The home secretary must unequivocally insist that Britain’s longstanding position on the death penalty has not changed and seek cast-iron assurances from the US that it will not be used.

A failure to seek assurances on this case seriously jeopardises the UK’s position as a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and its work encouraging others to abolish the cruel, inhuman and degrading practice.

Other criticisms have come from Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow Attorney General and Lord Carlile who said on the BBC the decision was extraordinary and:

It is a dramatic change of policy by a minister, secretly, without any discussion in parliament.  It flies in the face of what has been said repeatedly and recently by the Home Office – including when Theresa May was home secretary – and very recently by the highly respected security minister, Ben Wallace.

Britain has always said that it will pass information and intelligence, in appropriate cases, provided there is no death penalty.  That is a decades-old policy and it is not for the home secretary to change that policy.  BBC Today programme 23 July 2018

There is also the question of the use of torture.  Will either or both of them be sent to Guantanamo Bay to receive abusive treatment including water boarding?  Coming so soon after a select committee roundly criticized the government for its role in torture and rendition, this is a surprising and disappointing development.

The full text of the letter can be seen here.

Sources: Amnesty; BBC; the Guardian; Mail on line


If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in human rights issues please feel free to join us.  Keep and eye on this site and Facebook for events and come along and make yourself known.  It is free to join the local group but there is a joining fee to join AIUK.

 

 

Snooper’s charter becomes law


Dark day for democracy and free speech.  Government gets ‘the most extreme powers ever’

The Investigatory Powers Bill became law this week and it is a dark day for democracy, not just in the UK, but the signal it gives to the rest of the world.  That one of the oldest democracies in the world should want to garner for itself, a whole set of powers to pry into peoples communications and to find out journalists’ sources is a matter of shame.  It will provide increased encouragement to regimes around the world to clamp down further on their citizens.

The wonder of it is that so many people are so relaxed about it.  Although over 130,000 people protested, the government took little notice.

Picture: 5pillarsuk.com

The state needs to have a security apparatus. When the nation is under threat either in the time of war or by terror groups, it must have the means to investigate.  This is likely to mean eavesdropping in some form or other.

There is also the issue of secrecy and confidentiality.  People in government should have the means to discuss ideas and float policy ideas without it being published in the media – to start with at least.

Technology has provided a means now to invade individual’s private space with ease.  Technology has surpassed the law in this regard.  Nearly all the key technologies are operated out of Silicon Valley in the USA over which we have no control.  Is it not interesting that Britain voted to come out of the European Union and one of the key reasons was sovereignty.  Yet in this regard, sovereignty is in California.

The Guardian reports:

The new surveillance law requires web and phone companies to store everyone’s web browsing histories for 12 months and give the police, security services and official agencies unprecedented access to the data.

It also provides the security services and police with new powers to hack into computers and phones and to collect communications data in bulk. The law requires judges to sign off police requests to view journalists’ call and web records, but the measure has been described as “a death sentence for investigative journalism” in the UK.  (29 November 2016)

The increasing ability to intercept communications has and is having an effect on free speech.  It is described as having a ‘chilling effect’.  Journalists working on these topics have to go to extraordinary lengths to cover their tracks.  Material has to be hidden abroad for protection from the security services.  Some other issues are more open to debate.

In case of war and terrorist attacks, the media quickly falls into line and the normal business of tackling government ministers is forgotten.  It quickly becomes a matter of supporting ‘our boys’ and even questions of the quality of kit for example do not get asked.

The crucial issue is one of power and control.  The very business of being able to pry into anyone’s private affairs gives the state enormous powers.  As citizens we should expect that these powers are used when necessary; are subject to control wherever possible (like the controls on searches); are subject to close scrutiny, and are in accord with properly laid down laws.  Controls on operational matters should not be in the hands of politicians who cannot on the whole be trusted with secrets of this nature.  The level of intrusion should be matched by the degree of scrutiny.

As usual, supporters of snoopery will trot out the old adage that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.  This is, in its most fundamental way, true.  But the trouble is that as with all these moves what we are seeing is only the thin end of a very long and dangerous wedge.  Most law-abiding people have no reason to worry about other people knowing what websites they have visited.  But once you give the authorities the ability to do this history tells us that this ability will, inevitably, end up being abused.  (Daily Mail)

In the 3 or so years that the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ has been debated, it is often stated by members of the public that they are not concerned and if the security services want to listen in to their conversations with their auntie they are free to do so – ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’ is the frequent refrain.  Yet if police and security services arrived at their front door and searched their house and computer without a warrant or reason to do so, they would be outraged.  Is the difference just that one is visible and the other isn’t?

Likewise, if you asked these same members of the public ‘do you trust our politicians?’ they would think you were a little mad. Yet they are happy to allow them or their agents to intrude into their affairs.  The current Home Secretary is Amber Rudd and readers of Private Eye and the Daily Mirror will have read several revelations about her less than honest business affairs involving dodgy companies and diamond mines.  Questions have also been asked about her tax affairs.   To her, the nation entrusts its secrets.

To come of course is the promised withdrawal from the European Court and the threatened repeal of the Human Rights Act.

We have not lived in a state such as existed in East Germany, Romania or the Soviet Union where the degree of control was extreme. Thus people in the UK are not aware of the harmful effects of giving too much power to those in power.

Finally, is it even sensible in its own terms?  Someone once said that hunting for terrorists was like ‘hunting for a needle in a haystack’.  Is it wise then to increase the size of the haystack?

Chilling.


Follow us on Twitter and Facebook – salisburyai

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: