Foreign Law Means Nothing If You're British; as Convicted Murderers McLauchlan and Parry Head Homeward, Dennis Ellam Questions Tony Blair's Intervention

By Ellam, Dennis | The Birmingham Post (England), May 21, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Foreign Law Means Nothing If You're British; as Convicted Murderers McLauchlan and Parry Head Homeward, Dennis Ellam Questions Tony Blair's Intervention


Ellam, Dennis, The Birmingham Post (England)


The convicted murderers Lucille McLauchlan and Deborah Parry are flying home - their release another victory for the principle that Britons held in foreign prisons cannot possibly be guilty as charged.

No doubt they will raise a champagne toast on the journey back to Britain; they have not only their freedom to celebrate, but the good fortune that tabloid newspapers have been bidding six-figure sums for their stories.

For the brutal killing of a nursing colleague, it should be noted, they have spent less than 18 months in jail.

Even if the people of Saudi Arabia are not unduly concerned that their justice system is so open to bartering and manipulation, certainly there will be widespread disquiet in this country at the way in which McLauchlan and Parry have been have been allow ed to go.

The UK subscribes to the notion that there ought to be an international rule of law.

But when proven murderers, and before them convicted drug-smugglers, have their punishment waived and are despatched home, apparently because their nationality somehow mitigates their crime, the law's rule appears to depend upon circumstance.

At the heart of public concern will be the application of Royal prerogatives, to overturn the decisions of lawful courts.

McLauchlan and Parry are homeward-bound thanks to a pardon granted by Saudi's King Fahd.

Similarly, Karyn Smith and Patricia Cahill, jailed in Bangkok having been caught in possession of 66lbs of heroin at the airport, were returned home to Birmingham, as an act of clemency by Thailand's King Bhumibol.

In both cases, British prime ministers had intervened on behalf of their citizens. To secure the release of Smith and Cahill, a personal plea was sent directly from Mr John Major, while the case of McLauchlan and Parry was raised by Mr Tony Blair during his recent talks with King Fahd.

Prime ministers, like any politician, naturally respond to what they perceive to be the public opinion, and the image of Britons - female Britons, especially - incarcerated in a foreign land is a powerful opinion-shaper.

They "languish" in its cells. The conditions they must endure are invariably "hellish". They become "victims", in their drab prison uniforms, of a judiciary which might be rarely seen and probably little understood at home in the UK.

We do not even trust the USA. At the very start of the Louise Woodward trial, for example, there was outcry at the sight of an accused Briton being brought into the Boston courthouse in wrist and ankle chains, without much regard to the fact that this wa s exactly how an American would have been treated too.

And yet, the fervent jubilation which greeted Ms Woodward's release was deeply unsettling; likewise, the triumphant return of Smith and Cahill caused much unease, and now when McLauchlan and Parry arrive back there will have to be questioning about their premature release.

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