Friday, August 12, 2005

Judges face human rights shake-up

I wish people in Britain would pause for a second and listen to the tone of the public debate on counter-terrorism issues. We should ask ourselves what kind of a government denounces judges for giving more weight to "human rights" than to "state security". Judges are supposed to be the independent guardians of individual rights. Only in totalitarian regimes are they part of the security apparatus.

We should ask ourselves why, if the people to be deported are terrorist leaders, our government wants to send them away. Why don't they charge them with their crimes and put them out of circulation? Could it be perhaps that the government does not believe its own story? That it is simply manufacturing "tough action" headlines?

One of the men is wanted by the US Government on terrorism charges. Why don't we hand him over to our ally to face trial? Oh yes, because the USA might execute him if convicted and "we" officially don't approve (although polls show the same level of popular support for the death penalty in the UK as in the USA). Officially, "we" prefer to send him, on the basis of shaky assurances from dubious governments, to repression and possible torture.

If we can't convict a man of a crime, we should stop accusing him. All this "tough" activity is simply playing politics with people's lives for the benefit of tabloid editors. We may not like the individuals concerned or approve of their views, but we should all be conscious that what can be done to them today could be done to us tomorrow. The government is just making a panicked population feel that it is "doing something". Assembling evidence and conducting a prosecution is much more like hard work than tearing alleged radicals from their homes and sending them back to the countries they fled from.

I have no problem with toughening entry restrictions and turning away "undesirables" on the slightest of suspicions. No non-EU citizen has a right to come to Britain. Nor do I have a problem with deporting those who enter illegally, or those who - having entered legally, but not yet become citizens - are convicted of crimes. However, deporting people who live legally in Britain to play on public fears and please tabloid editors is a national disgrace. So is hectoring judges not to interfere with such shoddy games, whether that hectoring is done by the government or the leader of the Opposition.

BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Judges face human rights shake-up

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