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THE SHAPE OF JUSTICE

The present government of the UK is ostensively a democratically elected body, brought to power by the will of the people at the ballot box but what was elected is not what is now in power.

When the government of “New Labour” took office it was lead by Tony Blair who wasted no time in reminding the entire parliamentary compliment of New Labour MP’s that they would not be in office if they were not New Labour. Some might have thought that it was rather “Stating the obvious” but obvious is not a trait associated with Tony Blair nor his self appointed successor Gordon Brown, both claim to be transparent in government yet both install legislation that is open to and invites misuse on a scale that is reminiscent of the excesses of pre-war Germany. Laws which, permit government to use the law to enforce their stranglehold on power whilst preventing any dissent. Though the original intent of such legislative powers is born from absolute necessity the legislation once enshrined in statute is frequently misused and reprecedented to suppress any element of society that takes issue with an administration that is rapidly evolving into a “Police state”. Ten years ago, when the country elected New Labour the right of a worker to withdraw his/her labour in strike action was a right most Trade Unions had fought for and won though it was doubtful whether that right was actually codified in law. In those far off days it was possible to exercise the right of “Free Speech” and a free press flourished though to be accurate the issue of a “D” could prevent a publication notice where the subject matter was prejudicial to “National Security”. Though laws did exist against “Riotous assembly” and a crowd of  “Three or more” could be forced to disperse if their meeting contravened public order. Demonstrations against popular “Cause Celeb” were often a feature of the streets of London.

Within a few short years of taking power and with a majority so large that they could force any legislation onto the statutes the rights of an individual began to suffer erosion on a scale that defies belief in modern day Britain. Governments with social leanings whilst when in opposition are the most vociferous on the rights of the individual are often the first to take those rights away when they have the power to do so. This administration is no exception.

The catalyst that allowed such draconian reform of English law was the “Terror attack” on central London that claimed 53 dead. From that point on a law against terror was seen as a priority above anything else. In the absence of a law against terrorist activity the Home Secretary had indefinitely detained people without charge and ignored “Due Process of law” by doing so. In England the judiciary is independent of politics but here was an example of a body being detained at the behest of a politician. The practise crossed the line between politics and due process of law. It ignored the three hundred year old law of “Habeas Corpus” because it was simply inconvenient. The judiciary ruled that detention without charge or trial was illegal and required the Home Secretary to “Produce the body”. Far from accepting the rule of law the Home Secretary merely changed the venue of detention by releasing the “Suspected” terrorists from gaol and putting them under house arrest.
At that time there were five “Suspects being held “Incognito” and 900 under close surveillance. Despite the introduction of several anti-terror laws the number of terror suspects continues to rise and the present day figure is hovering around 2500. The government has accepted that they cannot “Just lock people away” at least “In principle”. This is self evident by their continued attempts to increase the period that a suspect can be detained. Their ideal is stated frequently as 90 days but because any law has to pass through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords their powers have been restricted to 14 days largely because the House of Lords contains all of the senior members of the judiciary who are both the “Brake” and the “Conscience” upon the excesses of government. Little wonder then the government’s stated aim to abolish the House of Lords.

The downfall of any law lies not in its intent but in its application and the terror laws as they now stand are being misused almost daily. Whilst they are a tool to be applied to a terror situation they are also a “Stick with which the government can and does reach for when dealing with any element of society that is in dissent”. An opinion at the time of the first of the terror laws put it “That one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter or trade unionist or even social reformer” depending upon the perception of the interpretation of the law.

At one Party political conference, New Labour’s to be exact. More than 900 people were arrested under the Terrorism Act because they voiced opinion that was at variance with the governing political party, one of those detained was 82 years old and a Nazi death camp survivor who had been a member of the party for fifty years.
Hardly a hardened terrorist and certainly no threat to “National security” but the anti terror law was used to silence and remove all dissenting voices from the conference.

There are sections of the workforce that are specifically forbidden to withdraw their labour/co-operation, amongst this section are the Police/Armed forces/Prison officers ect. Recently the government have sought to expand this section by adding members of the Fire Service, Ambulance Service, Immigration officers, Customs officials, Nurses, Doctors and Fuel Tanker drivers. Though there has been industrial unrest in some of theses callings most was not about a desire of members to increase their pay but concern for the safety of the public which is being eroded by “Bean counters” withdrawing protection that puts public safety in jeopardy. In all cases the “Management” [ultimately government] has invoked the terrorism acts to force the rank and file back to work. Prison Officers were sent letters clearly stating that their action was illegal and threatened arrest and imprisonment under the Terrorism Acts.
Fuel tanker drivers staged a protest some years ago against the crippling taxes exacted from fuel duty, it was so effective that every tool of intimidation that the government could muster was used. The protest was short lived but in the light of recent tax burden increases the government has seen fit to point out that any repeat of the tactics used then are now illegal under the terrorism acts.

Subsequent amendments and supplementary Terrorism Acts have not only increased the detention period allowed in law to 28 days but also introduced changes to the law which are now being applied to domestic “Criminal law” in the same way as they are applied to the laws upon terrorism. If a suspect was arrested upon a criminal charge then the police were entitled to question that suspect for up to 4 days after which they had to bring the suspect before a judge/magistrate to gain an extension if they needed more time. Today the reason for arrest is reclassified to fall within the terror laws and a suspect can be held for up to 28 days even though they are not terrorists but criminals. Before the terror laws a criminal was questioned and then charged at which point the questioning stopped but now a suspect can be charged and the questioning will continue up to the point of arraignment and in some cases it even continues in gaol after sentence has been passed.

The spirit and protection of English law has suffered serious compromise by the hasty and ill thought out provisions of The Terrorism Acts. Rights once held by the British subject have been sacrificed upon the doubtful altar of the false god “Anti Terrorism” and none of the new laws have done anything to control or reduce terrorism in Britain.
The Terrorism Acts have alienated the section of the society that is the perceived “Hotbed” of terrorist activity and far from reducing the threat they have increased it three-fold.

The government’s original demand under the Anti-Terror laws was a 90-day detention period [without trial or charge] the first terror law restricted detention to 14 days; subsequent laws increased the period to 28 days. In the Queen’s speech at the opening of Parliament last month there was the intent to bring a further terror law before Parliament with a detention period of 56 days.

That we need a law on terror is beyond dispute but if that law is open to misuse and can be applied to situations where it was not intended then it is an exercise in futility and every time it is applied incorrectly its credence and respect is diminished.

In Pakistan the President has sacked all of the senior judges in the Pakistani court system because they refuse to allow the law to be used to ratify the Presidential office indefinitely. It is ostensively a case where politics is trying to use the judiciary to retain power with an added complication of the military involvement. The President posed a question at a press call last week, he asked “Which is more important, the country or its democracy”? He chose to believe that the country was more important but if it has no democracy then it ceases to exist. Condemnation of his actions has flowed from the west and nowhere has been more critical than the UK, yet it could be argued that the constant erosion of civil liberties and personal freedoms in the UK are a parallel to the current situation in Pakistan.

JP.


Posted: November 16, 2007 



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