The English language sometimes makes it hard to convey your actual meaning in writing but, on the other hand, it makes for suitably ambiguous headlines like this one.
Some time ago, the British government tried to change the law so that “terrorist suspects” could be locked up for 3 months without charge. The attempt failed as even Labour MP’s saw through the thinly-veiled attempt to curtail civil liberties unnecessarily and the shonky way in which justification was invented by instructing police forces to draw up proposals for 90 day detention without charge and then claiming those proposals were requests for its introduction. Let’s be realistic here – if you’ve got enough evidence to suspect somebody you don’t need three months to find a charge that will stick.
The “independent” reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, recently said that unelected judges should decide how long people can be held without charge instead of elected politicians. I think this is probably the first time the “you gave the wrong answer before so we won’t ask you again” method of democracy has been used on MP’s. Lord Carlile has previously proposed bringing in an English version of the US Patriot Act which allows the US government to lock up non-US citizens indefinitely without charge, without trial and without access to legal advice.
This is all illegal under our existing constitution of course. Habeas Corpus (yes, it’s a law, not a principle) and the Bill of Rights between them guarantee the right to trial by jury and ban summary justice and arbitrary imprisonment. What other basic rights do we need? We certainly don’t need a new Bill of Rights which is what No Mandate Brown is planning to introduce. What we need is for our existing rights under our centuries old constitution to be respected. Under English law you can’t lock people up indefinitely, the police or local authority “enforcement officers” can’t hand out on-the-spot fines and you can’t be convicted of any crime without standing trial in front of a jury if that is your wish.
The curtailment of our civil liberties and blatant disregard for our constitution and legal system is all in the name of fighting terrorism. The British government calls it a “war” but it’s not. You can’t have a war against a word or a crime, a war is between two or more nations. If this was a war, terrorism suspects would be prisoners of war and would have more rights from the Geneva Convention than they do under anti-terrorism laws. But what constitutes an offence under the “anti-terrorism” laws that the British government have introduced?
Reading the names of dead soldiers outside the war memorial next to Downing Street is a crime under anti-terrorism laws. Carrying a blank placard within 1km of Parliament is a crime under anti-terrorism laws. Wearing a T-Shirt insulting the Prime Minister within 1km of Parliament is a crime under anti-terrorism laws.
Anyone who has seen Taking Liberties or read the book by the same name will remember the man who was put under house arrest for not being a terrorist. Off the top of my head, the story goes something like this: a muslim went to live in Afghanistan before the invasion because he wanted to experience living in an Islamic country. When the Americans threatened to
invade liberate the country he moved his family to Pakistan. The Americans subsequently offered a bounty to anyone in Pakistan accusing someone of terrorism. As an outsider, the man was promptly sold to the Americans by locals. He was taken to Afghanistan and tortured interrogated for a few months with the full knowledge of British government. He was then taken to Guantanamo Bay where he was tortured interrogated some more and then sent back to the UK without standing trial where he was placed under house arrest by the Home Secretary for not being a terrorist.
There is another story in the same book about another muslim who stood trial as a terrorist for knowing someone who knew someone who stabbed a police officer during a “terror raid”. He was acquitted after the CPS’ case fell to pieces when it became clear that he didn’t even know the person who had stabbed the police officer but his freedom was short-live because the Home Secretary put him under house arrest for not being a terrorist.
What is so absurd about “anti-terrorism” legislation is that it isn’t actually needed. Committing a terrorist act, when you break it down, is one or more existing basic crimes. Blowing something up is criminal damage, killing somebody is murder and trying to kill somebody is attempted murder. Planning to commit one of these crimes is conspiracy to commit criminal damage or conspiracy to commit murder and trying to undermine the state is treason. All these have been crimes for centuries and, until recently, carried serious sentences.
To use a recent example: the two muslims, Singe Maheed and Allaburn Majeep, who drove a jeep into Glasgow Airport were guilty of criminal damage and attempted murder. The fact that they were a pair of nutjob jihadi’s doesn’t make it anything other than those two basic crimes.
So, getting back to my original comment about the failings of the English language and the ambiguous headline – is it a criminal justice system or is the justice system criminal? Answers on a postcard …