Bill of Rights


Plans to abolish the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights was set out in the Queen’s Speech given to parliament today (10 May 2022) by Prince Charles (the Queen was indisposed).

The Conservatives have long wanted to rid themselves of the HRA seeing it as a drag on the British legal system, not allowing them to deport foreign criminals at the end of their sentences and providing opportunities for ‘lefty lawyers’ to use spurious grounds of a right to family life to frustrate deportations. Salisbury’s local MP John Glen is one of those who has supported the idea of abolition. The problem all along has been replace it with what? The proposal has appeared in all the recent party manifestos but action has seemed difficult to achieve. The government is keen to capitalise on our departure from Europe (and there are other bills in the speech concerning post Brexit matters) and the role of Strasbourg has long been a thorn they wish to remove. Below is the detail behind the speech:

Bill of Rights

[Extract of the proposed bill of rights legislation from the Queen’s speech]

 “My Government will ensure the constitution is defended. My Ministers will restore the balance of power between the legislature and the courts by introducing a Bill of Rights.”

The purpose of the Bill is to:

● Introduce a Bill of Rights which will ensure our human rights framework meets the needs of the society it serves and commands public confidence.

● End the abuse of the human rights framework and restore some common sense to our justice system. The main benefits of the Bill would be:

● Defending freedom of speech by promoting greater confidence in society to express views freely, thereby enhancing public debate.

● Curbing the incremental expansion of a rights culture without proper democratic oversight, which has displaced due focus on personal responsibility and the public interest.

● Reducing unnecessary litigation and avoiding undue risk aversion for bodies delivering public services.

● Tackling the issue of foreign criminals evading deportation, because their human rights are given greater weight than the safety and security of the public.

The main elements of the Bill are:

● Establishing the primacy of UK case law, clarifying there is no requirement to follow the Strasbourg case law and that UK Courts cannot interpret rights in a more expansive manner than the Strasbourg Court.

● Ensuring that UK courts can no longer alter legislation contrary to its ordinary meaning and constraining the ability of the UK courts to impose ‘positive obligations’ on our public services without proper democratic oversight by restricting the scope for judicial legislation.

● Guaranteeing spurious cases do not undermine public confidence in human rights so that courts focus on genuine and credible human rights claims. The responsibility to demonstrate a significant disadvantage before a human rights claim can be heard in court will be placed on the claimant.

● Recognising that responsibilities exist alongside rights by changing the way that damages can be awarded in human rights claims, for example by ensuring that the courts consider the behaviour of the claimant when considering making an award.

Territorial extent and application

● The Bill will extend and apply across the UK.

Key facts

● An estimated 70 per cent of foreign national offenders who had their deportation overturned in the last five years on human rights grounds in the First Tier Tribunal did so due to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Right to Family Life).

● Between 2005 and 2011, the Prison Service in England and Wales faced successful legal challenges from over 600 prisoners on human rights grounds. This has cost the taxpayer around £7 million, including compensation paid out and legal costs.

[END OF EXTRACT]

What is the Human Rights Act?

The Human Rights Act protects all of us. It brings home fundamental, universal rights we all have as human beings, and allows us to challenge authorities if they violate them. It’s an invisible safety net, working to ensure our rights are respected. It is a crucial defence for the most vulnerable.

We know the Human Rights Act works. It worked for the Hillsborough families in their fight for justice. It worked for the victims of John Worboys. It worked to overturn the near total ban on abortion in Northern Ireland. We don’t need to change it.  

The Police Bill has shown that the government does not want to see protests against its actions. The proposed bill of rights will further weaken the rights of ordinary citizens against the power of the state. Take the clause above ‘guaranteeing spurious cases do not undermine public confidence in human rights …’ Who is to decide what is spurious? A government minister? Or ‘reducing unnecessary legislation to avoid undue risk aversion by public bodies’. Reducing checks on fire safety is almost certainly to be found to be one of the causes of the fire at Grenfell Tower.

The local group will be among many opposing this attack on the HRA. Perhaps the bill should be renamed the ‘Bill of Reduced Rights’?

October minutes


Attached are the group minutes of the meeting held on 14 October thanks to group member Fiona for preparing them. A full meeting and there is a note of our meeting with the MP for Salisbury Mr John Glen. The meeting was successful and our three representatives pointed out the many misgivings people have over the proposed legislation. Over 200 organisations – including Amnesty – are very concerned at three major bills currently before parliament which singly and together will have a major impact on our human rights. There is also the review of the Human Rights Act the results of which are awaited any time.

Meeting with Mr Glen MP


Members of the Salisbury group will be meeting the MP for Salisbury on Friday

In common with well over a hundred organisations, Amnesty is extremely concerned about several of the bills currently on their way through parliament. These are the enormous Police, Crime and Sentencing bill, the Justice and Courts bill and the Nationality and Borders bill. Together with the expected review of the Human Rights Act, they amount to a concerted attack on our freedoms. The group wishes to express our concerns to the MP. We will report on his reactions after the meeting.

The views of the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab were discussed in our last post.

Podcast

Salisbury MP accused of ‘kowtowing’ to China


John Glen, the MP for Salisbury, has been accused by the ex-leader of his party of ‘kowtowing’ to China

This accusation was made in the Mail on Sunday, a Conservative supporting tabloid paper, in an article on 24 October 2020.  Mr Glen, a Treasury Minister, gave a speech at an event organised by the 48 Group Club which was set up to promote Sino-British relations.  Mr Glen is alleged to have said that ‘Britain and China are natural partners and that the two sides have broad prospects for cooperation in financial services and the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.’ [No text of the speech is available on the 48 Group Club’s website or on the Treasury site.]

Pursuing increased commercial contact and encouraging greater trade was a creditable endeavour.  Greater  understanding was always to be supported and many of the 500 or so individuals who are members of the Club are likely to have had that in mind when joining.

But since Xi Jinping came to power, things have changed markedly.  China has become a repressive state with a catalogue of infringements against international norms.  It’s justice system is plagued by unfair trials and the use of torture.  Repression of whole areas of the country including Tibet and Xinjiang is severe.  The Government continues to harass, intimidate and prosecute human right defenders.  All media and the internet are rigorously censored.  There is little religious freedom with churches, mosques and temples destroyed on government orders.  China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined.

Over the past year, attention has focused on the treatment of Uighurs, a million of whom are incarcerated in so-called training establishments which nevertheless are surrounded by high walls and watchtowers and are closed to outside observers.  Recently, concern has been expressed at the use of forced labour to produce cotton and western companies are being urged to ensure cotton produced using such labour is not used in their products.

In July a book was published by Clive Hamilton and Mareika Ohlberg Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World’ (One World Press) which claims that the 48 Group Club is a hub ‘through which Beijing grooms Britain’s elites’.  Looking into the group does seem to reveal some curious issues.  It claims many members of the political establishment some of whom say they have no knowledge of joining.  Who funds them is not explained on their website.

48 Group is a hub ‘through which Beijing grooms Britain’s elites’ book claims

Mr Glen cannot claim ignorance of the appalling human rights situation in China since many members of the Salisbury Amnesty group have written to him on many occasions.  He will be aware of the concerns about China’s increasing bellicose actions against Taiwan and border conflict with India.  China has reneged on the Hong Kong agreement and is tightening its grip on the state.  However, we know from the They Work for you site that Mr Glen ‘generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights’.  Many countries are beginning to review their relations with the country in view of the policies of the communist regime and the threats they pose.

Mr Duncan Smith claims that the speech was written for him which, as it does not seem to have been published or made available, we cannot know.  It does suggest however, that the government is anxious to press on with closer commercial contacts with China despite the increasing risks and despite the appalling human rights situation there.  It is perhaps an inevitable result of the Brexit decision (supported by Mr Glen) and the shock that will give to the economy: we must seek business where we may and not be too squeamish about with whom.

That may be so, but for Mr Glen allegedly to praise President Xi, as the Mail on Sunday claims, to a suspect lobbying organisation, raises many uncomfortable questions.

Sources: Mail on Line [accessed 15 December 2020]; Endole; Daily Express; upnewsinfo.com; Amnesty International.  Sites searched but with no reference to the speech: Salisbury Journal; Treasury; John Glen MP’s website [all accessed 18 December 2020]

Human Rights Act


The Salisbury Amnesty group is politically neutral.  We have an interest in the Human rights Act passed with all party consensus in 1998.  The Conservative Party’s manifesto for the 2019 general election says:

Once we get Brexit done, Britain will take back control of its laws.  As we end the supremacy of European law, we will be free to craft legislation and regulations that maintain high standards but which work best for the UKWe want a balance of rights, rules and entitlements that benefits all the people and all the parts of our United Kingdom.

After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people.  The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical.  We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government. We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.  In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates.  Page 48 in the section: Protect our Democracy (our italics)

We can find no similar pledge in the other two main party’s manifesto.  To some extent this is a familiar promise.  In the past, the party has promised to repeal the act and to introduce a bill on rights and responsibilities.  Probably because of the pressure on parliamentary time with Brexit, such a bill has never emerged.  Promises to abolish the act also have never emerged.  We have asked what part of the act they want to abolish but this has never been answered.  The Party does seem to have a problem with the act as it is currently drafted.

The words themselves tell you little and may even seem on the face of it, benign.  What does ‘update the act’ mean?  Seeking a balance between the rights of individuals and our vital national security and effective government is a bit of a clue.  A regular theme of the right wing press is the threat posed by the act to our national security.  This for example from the Daily Mail in 2015:

Another day, another insult to common sense courtesy of the Human Rights Act and the lawyers enriched by this toxic piece of legislation, which allows them so profitably to ride roughshod over the wishes of Parliament and the British public.   Editorial, 1 August 2015

We shall be keeping a watching brief on Conservative party plans if they assume power on 13 December 2019.

Visitors to this site may like to visit Rights Info where this manifesto promise is also discussed.

 

Death penalty report: September – October


Tree of Life. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

The latest death penalty report produced by the group is available and thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.  In the report is a link to the Japanese man who has been imprisoned and on death row for four decades and is now of interest again because the Pope has become involved.

Sept – Oct report (Word)

World Day Against the Death Penalty


The death penalty in Saudi Arabia: Salisbury group action
Thursday 10th October 2019 will be the 17th World Day Against the Death Penalty so we are writing to invite you to take part in our Group Action.
This year we are focusing on the practice of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.  A report by Baroness Kennedy, presented to the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, has highlighted the ‘alarming’ rise in state executions, including crucifixions.  It states that more than 134 people have been executed this year, with at least 24 more prisoners at imminent risk, including three children.
We are asking supporters to write to John Glen MP on 10th October, drawing his attention to the report, and calling on him to make representations to the Government to support its recommendations and to condemn Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty.
I have attached a copy of a suggested letter to Mr Glen (the member of parliament for Salisbury), which you are welcome to use, or to adapt into your own words.  The letter contains a link to Baroness Kennedy’s report.
If you are able to help, many thanks.

 

Salisbury refugee


UPDATE: 26 January

There is now a Change.org petition highly critical of the government and the lack of any response from the Home office minister Caroline Nokes,  The comments are worth reading and mostly supportive of his case.

UPDATE: January 25: 15:30

Reza now in Afghanistan  Salisbury Journal 25th

UPDATE: January 23, 18:00

Reza is reported to be in Kabul see https://www.change.org/p/home-office-stop-deportation-of-reza-to-afghanistan

UPDATE: January 22, 18:00

Latest news is the Reza is due to be deported at any moment.

 

Further developments with Reza Maghsoudi

Readers may recall an earlier post about a refugee from Afghanistan who has been living in this country for some years and Salisbury for 2, who went to Melksham police station for a routine appointment, whereupon he was arrested and sent to a Detention Centre prior to a planned deportation.  Reza Maghsoudi gained some local publicity and there was a follow-up item on BBC Wiltshire last month.

In today’s Salisbury Journal (4 January 2018), the Salisbury MP Mr Glen, in his View from the Commons piece, devotes some space to Reza’s case:

I was in my office at 9am on January 2nd to plan my latest intervention on behalf of Reza Maghsoudi, the young Afghan national who is facing deportation.  His many allies in Salisbury have been fighting compassionately and tirelessly to help him regularize his immigration status so that he can continue with his life he has built here – the dear friends he has made and the skills he has learned.

A decision is due and I have been keen to once again to ensure that the case in on the personal radar of the minister so that the significant new evidence that has come to light in recent week can be taken into account.

This is of course encouraging and we hope that the combination of publicity and political pressure bear fruit.

Why are we here?

But why do we have a situation like this in the first place?  Why do we have a series of policies whereby someone like Reza is held in a detention centre and is under constant threat of deportation?  The answer of course is because for some years now the government has pursued aggressive policies in an attempt to reduce immigration.  These have included:

  • plans to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’
  • tightening of work visa eligibility
  • greater scrutiny of students concerning their eligibility to stay and study
  • reducing benefits to the lowest level in Europe
  • provision of sub-standard housing and is what the home affairs sub-committee described as ‘disgraceful’.
  • introducing bureaucratic delays which regularly force people into destitution according to the Refugee Council.

The benefit reductions came about because it was claimed by David Cameron, when he was the prime minister, that our benefits were a ‘magic pull’ to people wishing to come here.  There was no evidence for this.  This led to cuts trumpeted to save £500m.  These attitudes have been stirred up by some of the media who have great influence on government policy.  One media commentator called refugees ‘cockroaches’ in the Daily Mail for example.  Despite research evidence to show that immigrants are of net benefit to the UK economy, politicians and some media editors constantly refer to them as a ‘problem’ and a drain on the economy.  They are seen as another form of scrounger.  People seeking asylum – like Reza – have been conflated with immigration as a deliberate policy (Migration Policy).

So Reza is a small part of a concerted programme of demonizing immigrants and asylum seekers by legal restrictions, benefit reductions and detaining them in detention centres.  It is interesting to contrast the plans being prepared by Mr Glen in the Salisbury Journal piece with a rather different speech he made in the House Of Commons:

One aspect of that reform, referred to in the Queen’s Speech, is access to benefits for immigrants. It is right that the Government are considering limiting access to housing benefit and health care for people who have not earned the right to it. It is not enough to keep ignoring that uncomfortable truth because we are frightened of being too right wing, too nasty or too unpleasant. The routine experience of people up and down this country is that on the front line, at the point of delivery and at the point of receiving public services, they are too often displaced by people who, apparently, should not have the right to access those services. I am pleased that the Government will address that in legislation.   (Source: Theyworkforyou.com, May 2013 Queen’s Speech debate (our highlight)

Mr Reza’s case is not about benefits but it is about the attitudes of a government who have adopted an aggressive approach based upon misinformation and media attacks.  We wish Reza every success.

xenophobic-headlines

Sources: BBC; fullfacts.org; Refugee Council; Migration Policy; UCL; Guardian; Independent

 

Salisbury refugee arrested


UPDATE: 22 February

Reported in the Salisbury Journal that Reza in ‘in a really bad place’ physically and mentally.  See the Journal article.

 

A Salisbury refugee has been arrested and is under threat of deportation

A refugee who has been living in Salisbury for 2 years was back in the news this week following his arrest in Melksham.  He was scheduled to be deported back to Afghanistan, the second most dangerous country in the world according to the FCO.

Reza Magsoudi fled Afghanistan in 2004 when he was 13 and travelled alone to the UK.  Early in November 2017 he was summoned to Melksham police station for the routine procedure of declaring his whereabouts in the UK, whereupon he was arrested.  He was taken to Tinsley House in Gatwick from where he was due to be deported.

He was granted leave to remain in 2008 and has applied for asylum but for the most part without legal assistance.  His English is said to be poor.  There is now to be a judicial review.  A Change.org petition has achieved 73,000 signatures.

He has been supported during his stay in Salisbury by Derri Southwood who has had considerable difficulty in making contact since his incarceration in Gatwick.  BBC Wiltshire had several pieces on this topic on their morning show this week and a reporter has gained access to Tinsley House but was unable to tape an interview with him.

Issues

The case raises a number of issues concerning asylum policy in the UK and highlights the country’s poor record in offering a home to those fleeing war-torn countries.  The UK does however contribute a great deal of aid to those countries who have high levels of refugees but is reluctant to help those who come here.

Part of the reason is the myth that large numbers of people are ‘flooding’ into the country.  The facts do not support this myth.  Countries such as Turkey, Pakistan and Jordan have a much, much higher numbers in their countries out of a world wide population of around 14 million refugees.  By contrast, in quarter 2 of this year for example, there were 6,172 applications for asylum of which 65% were refused.  This sort of statistic is fairly constant quarter by quarter (Source: Refugee Council).  This is a tiny number of people in view of the world wide figure yet the impression created by some sections of the media is that we are somehow the principal port of call for refugees.

The UK no longer has a welcoming attitude to refugees and successive policies have sought to make it tougher and tougher to achieve leave to remain.  An analysis of statistics and policy by four newspapers (Guardian; Le monde; Der Spiegel and El Pais) found that:

The analysis found that Britain takes fewer refugees, offers less generous financial support, provides housing that is often substandard, does not give asylum seekers the right to work, has been known to punish those who volunteer and routinely forces people into destitution and even homelessness when they are granted refugee status due to bureaucratic delays.

This was worse than any other country except Italy.

What is often overlooked in these debates is that the reason why there is conflict and a country riven by war is partly the result of our colonial and imperial activities in the past.  Most obviously the Israeli and Palestinian conflict; the division of lands in the middle east after the fall of the Ottoman Empire following the Great War; the Yemen conflict today where we continue to sell arms to the Saudis causing enormous hardship to the people there, and our invasion of Libya which has led to instability, violence and also allowed people smugglers to prosper.  So we had a major historical impact and continue to do so by supplying arms which increases the level of conflict.

Looking at the below the line comments in the Salisbury Journal article, one gets a taste of the vitriol that the whole question of refugees generates.  Someone who calls him or herself ‘art91e’ says:

He has no right to be here, he serves no useful purpose, he’s illiterate after 13 years here, so he certainly did not do an apprenticeship … that is a lie!  Send him home asap.

The great majority of comments were sympathetic however.

Mr Glen, the Salisbury MP, has become involved and has promised to make contact with the minister’s office and to do what he can.  The problem – not unique to MPs like Mr Glen – is that the Home Office is carrying out government policy which has been supported by him.  It illustrates the problem of myths in the media being left unchallenged but which have a huge influence on how people think.  This drives policy and has created a harsh environment for asylum seekers.  They have become a problem best solved by keeping them out in the first place and then throwing them out if at all possible if they do make it here.

We await developments.


Don’t forget to visit our refugee photo exhibition in the Library which is running until the end of December.  Please sign or comment in the visitor’s book if you do go.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, Salisburyai.

We shall be card signing in the Library passage on Saturday morning 16th between 10 and noon.

Human rights under threat


Talk organised by the Romsey group

Dr Claire Lugarre. Picture, Salisbury Amnesty

On Monday March 19 the Romsey group of Amnesty hosted a most interesting talk by Dr Claire Lugarre who is a lecturer in Human Rights Law at the Southampton Law School, part of Southampton University.

An element of the desire of those who wish for the UK to come out of Europe is a wish to regain our (i.e. the UK’s) sovereignty.  There is also a desire, expressed most strongly by some members of the Conservative Party, to abolish the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.  This has been promised in the party’s manifestos and has been talked about for about a decade but details of what the BBoR will look like and how it will differ from the existing HRA is still largely opaque.  It seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

The Conservatives are not alone in wanting us to come out of the European Convention along with Brexit: most of the media have kept up a barrage of criticism and denigration of the Court and all its doings.  As the example on the right of the Daily Mail shows, there is talk of a ‘triumphant week for British values,’ the ‘crazy decision’ making by European Court judges – usually referred as ‘unelected’ judges and the ‘human rights farce’.

The talk

Claire Lugarre explained some of the background issues surrounding the issue of the European Court and what it might mean for the country if we left.

Her first point is that the notion of human rights is not just a western construct and similar ideas are seen throughout history even if they were actually called that at the time.  She also emphasised that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) had a utilitarian purpose not just a moral one.  There was an urgent desire after the carnage of WWII to construct a legal basis of good behaviour between states.

States have to comply with European Court judgements.  The Human Rights Act – often referred to by critics as ‘Labour’s’ Human Rights Act which it isn’t as it received all party support – incorporates the ECHR into British law thus removing the need for litigants to go to Strasbourg to get justice.

One matter is the vexed question of prisoner voting she said.  The European Court rejected the Government’s case which banned all prisoner voting and said that to ‘prescribe general, indefinite and automatic deprivation of a right to vote’ infringed a prisoner’s article 3 rights.  Thus far the government has ignored the ruling.  The issue was one of proportionality.

She spent some time on the often confusing difference between the Council of Europe and the European Union the latter being what we wish to leave (it was announced yesterday that the Article 50 notice to depart will be served on 29th of this month).  The Council of Europe consists of 47 states and within which the European Court sits.  This deals with human rights issues.  The European Union consists – at present – of 28 states and is a political and economic union.  There seem to be many who think that Article 50 means we will no longer be subject to ‘crazy decisions’ of the European Court.  To do that we have to leave the European ConventionThere have been reports that the prime minister Theresa May wishes to do that as well.

All legislation and legal judgements have to be in accordance with the HRA she said.  Indeed, the number of judgements already made by the courts represent a considerable body of precedent based on the HRA and the European Court.  Even if we come out of the European Convention the effects will be present for a considerable period.  It is also forgotten that the European Court is not the only thing which binds us, we are also signatories to a host of other treaties which will still be in existence.

BBoR

One of the arguments frequently heard is that it is not just about rights but also about responsibilities.  It was this principle which led to the desire to have a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.  This is a difficult argument to fathom.  Sometimes, people talk about responsibilities in terms of the government’s responsibilities to its citizens to uphold the Act.  Others argue that the citizen has responsibilities not just rights.  There are other arguments about the need to fight terrorism because the act has undermined this ability, it is claimed, and this requires responsibilities in some ill-defined way.   Claire was unclear what the BBoR would contain.

The relationship between rights and responsibilities needs to be understood.  Most rights are qualified in any event and, in practical terms, depend on the responsibility of everyone in society to respect one another’s freedoms (so that one party’s right to free expression, for example, does not impinge too far on another’s right to a private and family life).  These rights cannot be subjected to any all-encompassing limitation, such as that they are legally contingent on performance of set of duties and responsibilities. Their application regardless of such considerations is precisely the point of their existence.

It is often claimed by critics that the European Court was ‘imposed’ on the UK.  It wasn’t and the UK was a key participant in its formation after the war with many British lawyers involved.  It is also argued that the HRA should only be used for the most serious of cases but what this would mean in practice is not clear.  Who would decide on seriousness?

If, as is threatened, we do come out of the European Convention the effects could be traumatic.  At present countries like Russia and Turkey are part of it.  Russia’s human rights record is already poor and Turkey has arrested tens of thousands of judges, lawyers, academics and police.  If the UK pulls out of the Convention, of which it was a founder member, the effects could be even more serious in those countries.

The HRA has had a steady and beneficial effect on many people’s lives in this country.  In countless day to day decisions by authorities of various kinds, its provisions have to be adhered to and lawyers regularly use it to defend their client’s interests.  Perhaps its chief problem is that it shifts some power down to the individual, a fact which those who were in control find uncomfortable.

This was a most interesting evening about a subject which is bound to be in the news for some time to come.


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If you would like to join the Salisbury group you would be very welcome.  We meet once a month for a planning meeting and perhaps the best thing is to come along to an event and make yourself known.

 

 

 

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