Tony V Cherie; They Are Both Right. but the Only Way to Protect the Independence of the Judiciary and Deal with the Terrorist Threat Is to Release Britain from a Human Rights Act Which Mr Blair Has Called One of His 'Proudest Achievements'

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 28, 2005 | Go to article overview

Tony V Cherie; They Are Both Right. but the Only Way to Protect the Independence of the Judiciary and Deal with the Terrorist Threat Is to Release Britain from a Human Rights Act Which Mr Blair Has Called One of His 'Proudest Achievements'


Byline: CAMILLA CAVENDISH

IN THE great crescendo of "I told you so's" since 7 July, the quiet voices of the French and Arab intelligence services are surely the most legitimate. They warned for years that Beirut-sur-Thames was a haven for terrorists and extremists It is only in the past two years that the British authorities have started to show serious interest in the information passed on by other intelligence services. But even now, the British thank-you note often comes with a scribble about "human rights", which signals frustration to our allies.

This week's extraordinary spectacle of Blair v Blair - the Prime Minister criticising judges for thwarting his attempts to throw out extremists while his wife urged caution over civil liberties - merely summed up an argument that has been raging between politicians and the judiciary ever since the Government incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into British law as the Human Rights Act 1998.

Article 3 of the ECHR has become the Catch-22 of our age. It is now accepted that our leaky borders have let extremists in. But since 1998, our human rights laws have also stopped us throwing them out.

We cannot send a foreigner home, however heinous his crime, if he might face " inhuman or degrading treatment".

The greater the danger a suspect is thought to pose to British society, the easier it is for lawyers to argue that he will receive unpleasant treatment at home.

Judges have defined inhuman treatment so broadly that a heroin dealer from St Kitts who was convicted in Britain was able to resist deportation on the grounds that he had Aids and that the facilities to treat it at home were inadequate. They have ruled that almost every country outside Europe, including America, is liable to inflict such inhuman treatment. So we suspect everyone - except the suspects themselves.

The deportation problem is one of several unintended consequences not foreseen by those, including Lord Irvine, who have so fulsomely congratulated themselves on their skilful drafting of the Human Rights Act.

The Act enshrines eminently reasonable principles, such as freedom of speech and the protection of family life. The problem is with the way that these have been interpreted and applied. The Act effectively asks British judges to answer political questions.

Politicians cannot be surprised if they don't always like the answers.

Rather than ignore Article 3, the Government has been forced to resort to the most extreme measures. When the radical cleric Abu Qatada claimed asylum in 1993 on false papers, Britain ignored the advice of the Jordanians, who had sentenced him to death for plotting bomb attacks, and gave him refugee status.

BY the time the Home Office woke up to the danger, it was unable to return Qatada to Jordan because the reception he would get there would make a mockery of the precious Article 3. So the Home Secretary jammed him and others into Belmarsh prison without charge and without the right to see the evidence against them.Rather than ignore Article 3 the Government found it easier to suspend habeas corpus, which for 400 years has been a fundamental guarantee of liberty in Britain. …

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