Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Immigration Law, Legal System, Politics

Phelps’ banned from entering UK

Earlier I posted an entry about the plans of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) to come to the UK tomorrow in order to protest against the putting on of  The Laramie Project.

The UK Border Agency has banned Fred Phelps and his daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, from entering the United Kingdom.  However, the Church is still encouraging its supporters to come to the UK in order to spread their message of  hate.

Police in Hampshire are aware of the planned protest and are watching the situation.

Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Criminal Law, English Law, Human Rights, Legal System, Scots Law

The Right to Life

Does ones right to life extend to one’s right to chose when one’s life ends?  This is a question that arises when the emotive and somewhat difficult question of assisted suicide arises.

In England and Wales aiding or abetting someone’s suicide can result in criminal prosecution and an eventual custodial sentence of up to fourteen years.  There are large organisations campaigning on both sides of the fence, both with a fairly large amount of support.

The courts are asked on a semi-regular basis for their guidance and often their support in assisted suicide.  The most recent case that has reached the courts is that of Debbie Purdy.  Mrs Purdy was seeking the courts advice on where her husband stood legally if he travelled to Switzerland with her so that she could end her life.  The court ruled that, in accordance with a precedent set in October, that Mrs Purdy’s husband could face criminal prosecution on his return to the United Kingdom.

In October High Court judges ruled that a code of practice issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), along with the general safeguards of administrative law were adequate and satisfied Human Rights Laws.  However, the DPP does not seem to be in a hurry to prosecute people on their return from Switzerland as not one of the 101 relatives who have returned to the UK after going to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland have been prosecuted.  Could this initself be enough to argue a defence?

In 2001 Diane Pretty, who suffered from motor neurons disease, failed to get immunity from prosecution for her husband if he helped her to die in the UK.

Euthanasia, or assisted suicide, is one of those tricky moral debates.  Personally, I’m not entirely sure on where I stand on the whole issue.  On the one-hand we allow our loved ones to die in pain and suffering, with horrible illnesses, but have our pets ‘put to sleep’ if  they lose their quality of life.  However, legalising Euthanasia can open it up for abuse by greedy relatives who want to get their hands on their relatives estate.  Now, the law could be framed in a way to minimise this risk, but the risk would still be there and the chances of prosecution would be much lower than they currently stand (as there would be the added hurdle to get across for the prosecution in order to secure a conviction for Murder).

The argument that the right to life extends also to a right to choose when life ends is an interesting one and certainly pushing the boundaries of interpretation.  The UK court have not accepted the argument and I can see their reasons for not doing so: above all accepting such an interpretation would undermine well established UK Law, and it is the job of the courts to uphold the law.  However, is that a good enough reason not to accept this interpretation?  The courts are there to uphold the law, but the Human Rights Act also gives them a duty to uphold that law in accordance with the Articles of the European Convention contained within the Human Rights Act.  So, arguing that to rule in favour of something would undermine the law of the UK is not really as solid an argument as it first appears.  However, I digress into another issue.  I genuinely cannot see how the right to life, in the way the ECHR is framed, can possibly be interpreted to also mean the right to choose when one dies.  The provisions in Human Rights law (not just limited to the ECHR) is there to prevent citizens having their lives taken away by the state extra-judicially (something which we have seen in the past and continue to see in some countries today).  In some cases this right to life has been extended to include the abolition of capital punishment, further protecting the citizen and removing the state’s right to take a citizens life through the judicial process.  The interpretation, in my view, is just not tenable and it makes perfect sense that it has not been accepted by the courts.

Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Immigration Law, Legal System, Politics

Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) coming to the UK

Fred Phelps and his merry gang of hate preachers that go by the name of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) are coming to the UK later this week.  According to the picket schedule on their website, they will be visiting a college in Basingstoke, England where The Laramie Project is to be performed on Friday.

WBC are a notoriously extremist Christian wing in America.  They hold pickets across the USA “preaching the word of God”.  In the recent past they have picketed the funerals of dead homosexual American servicemen killed in action because of their sexuality.

In reality what WBC do is twist quotes from the Holy Bible in order to support their anti-gay stand.  Their raison d’être is to rid the world of the evil that is homosexuality.  It’s not about preaching the word of God, they just hide behind that.  They are religious extremists.

Now, there are many calls to see them banned from entering the UK under hate laws (similar to those used to prevent Geert Wilders from entering last week).  This situation is a tricky one.  I have said before that I am a great believer in the “I may not like what you say, however, I will defend to my death your right to say it” philosophy.  However, this isn’t straight forward.  The WBC are coming to the country specifically to preach hate.  If they were an organisation based in this country then I would say, go ahead and let them preach their hate and allow it to be opened to reasoned debate and criticism and ultimately ending up in their arguments being obliterated.  Although, there is the argument that Human Rights are universal and apply to all humans and that to stop these people from entering to preach their message of hate could lead to others being banned from entering because their message is offensive to the Government.  I’m not sure where I stand on this.  I am leaning towards the let them in and leave with their tails between their legs position, but it is a tricky one.

Civil Liberties, English Law, Human Rights, Legal System, Scots Law

Human Rights Act Flawed

I was reading in a newspaper at work recently about comments made by the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw MP, with regards to the Human Rights Act 1998.  The newspaper in which I read these comments will remain nameless (generally because I despise this particular paper and the title of the paper is irrelevant).  This particular Newspaper campaigns for the complete removal of the Human Rights Act, something which I fundamentally disagree with (as regular readers of my blog will know).  What I do agree with though is that the Human Rights Act is flawed (but that is no reason to abolish the concept of Human Rights entirely).

The Human Rights Act needs tweaked with in order to widen its scope, to help judges to interpret it and to make its application relevant to the wider population.  As it stands those who benefit most are those who are already on the wrong side of the law.  Those on the wrong side of the law are, in my opinion, still entitled to the majority of their Human Rights.  Of course in order to deal with dangerous offenders who are unable to be part of a civilised society we have to remove some of their basic rights such as their right to liberty.

One way to make the Human Rights Act more applicable to the wider society would be to amend it including aspects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (among other International Treaties).  The UDHR is a wider treaty that covers many more areas than the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950.  The two treaties combined would strengthen the Act and at the same time make it more widely applicable.

In my opinion the inclusion of Articles 25, 26 and 29 of the UDHR would strengthen the HRA fundamentally.  Article 25 reads:

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.  All children, whether born in or out of wedlock,  shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26 reads as follows:

  1. Everyone has the right to education.  Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.  Elementary education shall be compulsory.  Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.  It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 29 reads as follows:

  1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
  2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
  3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

 I have chosen these three articles for very specific reasons.  Largely the rights that they protect are ones already enjoyed by those living within the United Kingdom.  People take such things for granted, but forget that they are not things to be taken for granted.  For example, in the UK we have the right to free Health Care through the National Health Service.  However, within living memory there was no such thing as the NHS and people were being denied he most basic of healthcare.  By incorporating such rights into the Act it makes it applicable to everyone in society and will help to reduce resentment towards something that is important and fundamental to a democratic society.

Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Criminal Law, English Law, Human Rights, Legal System, Politics, Scots Law

UK society ‘demonising’ children

British children are being “demonised” by a society that is locking too many of them up, according to watchdogs.

According to a joint report, compiled by all the Children’s commisioners in the UK, attitueds towards children were hardening.

The experts said crime committed by children had fallen between 2002 and 2006, but the numbers criminalised had gone up by just over a quarter.

The four commissioners were appointed in a move to ensure children’s rights are more effectively recognised by policy-makers. Their UN report is part of the UK’s international obligations to report on standards.

They added that too many children were being put through the criminal justice system and the poverty experienced by one in three youngsters was unacceptable for a rich nation.
The experts said more children were scared in their neighbourhoods and, citing previous studies, drank more alcohol, had deteriorating mental health and felt more pressure at school than their European peers.

Public bodies are legally bound to put the best interests of a child first in decision-making. But the commissioners said this key legal safeguard had failed in some parts of the youth justice system for England and Wales.

I agree with some of this. I have a number of major problems when it comes to society and its attitudes towards children and young people:

Firstly, ASBOs. These are civil sanctions and do not result in a criminal conviction. However, quite unusually breaching an ASBO is a criminal offenence. So, not only do they go against the normal principles of our legal system (where Civil and Criminal law are seperate from one another), but it also criminlises children for behaviour which would not normally be criminal (e.g. being in a certain place that their order says they shouldn’t be)

Secondly, society is very dismissive of children and young people and view all as trouble makers regardless of what is going on. People get intimidated by even a small group of youths and even when these people are notdoing anything wrong. For this I often place most of the blame on the media who constantly print the bad things and rarely praise young people for the good things that many of them do.

Also, older members of society talk about respect. However, I believe that respect must work both ways. As a younger teenager I lost respect for a lot of adults simply because of the way the treated me when I was doing nothing. I was once walking from a friend’s house to mine (there was 4 of us) and an old lady screamed at us as we walked past. She screamed, “stop making my life a misery you drunk adicts” (I don’t drink or use drugs and never have done). We also had the police stop and search us because they thought we might have been carrying a weapon.

That’s all on this topic just now, but it’s something I’ll post on again in the future.

Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Legal System, Politics

Counter Terrorism Bill

Last month I wrote to my Labour MP regarding the Counter Terrorism Bill and have received a reply to my letter which reads:

With reference to your letter received 29 April regarding the Counter Terrorism Bill.

I believe that the Counter terrorism Bill sets out measures to address the real and severe terrorist threat faced by the UK from terrorism at present. It is my understanding that the police and security services are now working to deal with more than 200 groups, totalling around 2000 individuals – the highest number ever. Further, terrorism is becoming more complex, and investigations into terrorist offences more challenging. Therefore, it is the Government’s job to ensure that they have the powers available to deal with the threat of terrorism if they need them.

In regard to the provisions of the Bill, the Government has sought to build consensus with opposition parties, and has listened closely to views of community groups and others. The current proposals are backed by Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, senior police officers, and the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee.

Nevertheless, I believe that it must be emphasized that the Government is [b]not[/b] seeking a permanent extension to the current pre-charge detention limit of 28 days for terrorist suspects. It is seeking a reserve power to allow a temporary and non-renewable extension to the pre-charge detention limit for terrorist suspects – which could only be used in exceptional circumstances, and only if high parliamentary and judicial safe-guards were met.

Hopefully these powers will never have to be used. However, I am led to believe that to date 6 terrorist suspects have been held for between 27 and 28 days, and the Government cannot afford to ignore the possibility that in future it may be necessary to detain terrorist suspects for longer than 28 days in certain exceptional circumstances.

Further, I can assure you that I have considered the rights and freedoms of members of our society, and I paid particular attention to the fundamental right of people not to be the victim of a terrorist attack. Therefore, it is for this reason and the reasons given above, that I will be voting for the Counter Terrorism Bill.

While I appreciate that we will not see eye-to-eye on this issue, I appreciate you taking the time to make me aware of your views on this subject. Shold you wish to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to get back in touch with my office.

With best wishes.

Yours sincerely

Labour MP

When I read the letter I actually laughed so hard my stomach hurt.

Firstly, it could have been written by Gordon Brown himself. It sounded identical to what the Ministers have been saying right throughout the process of this Bill going before Parliament. (For the record my Labour MP holds no Ministerial posts, nor have they in the past)

Secondly, why do we need such a long time to question terrorist suspects? The United States has TWO DAYS, France has five, Ireland has seven, Russia has five and Canada has one (this is based on the nearest thing to a ‘charge’ in each respective legal system and has been provided by Lawyers practising in each state). The UK already has the longest pre-charge detention period for terrorist suspects in the Western World. Even states with Human Rights records that are often criticised such as Russia and Turkey (7.5 days) have less. There is absolutely no reason for having such long periods, plenty manage with periods of les than a week.

We already have extensive provisions that can be used in these “exceptional circumstances” such as those within the Civil Contingencies Act. There are alternatives to pre-charge detention that should be explored such as post-charge questioning instead (many of which are far less objectionable than the policies being followed by the Labour Government.) 28 days is too long as it is.

Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, English Law, Human Rights, Legal System, Scots Law

Criminal Justice under New Labour

The issue of pre-charge detention in relation to terrorist suspects in the UK is, once again, getting quite heated. Human Rights and Civil Liberties groups such as Liberty are preparing to do battle once again with the Government over the issue of Pre-charge detention.

The Government under Tony Blair, attempted to increase the number of days a terrorist suspect could be held from 14 to 90, but in the end had to settle for 28 days – more than long enough in my opinion and that of many others. However, within the Counter Terrorism Bill currently before Parliament and heading into the final stages of Parliamentary approval there is an attempt to increase this from 28 days to 42 days. A petition started up on the Prime Minister’s official website has gathered over 6,000 signatures and is due to last until the end of the year (the petition can be found here).

The Government are simply not putting forward a strong enough case to convince the people that a further extension to the length of time the police have to hold a terrorist suspect is needed – they’re not putting any case forward for that matter. They simply utter the words “National Security” (or words to that effect in ministerial waffle) and expect the citizenry to fall into line.It just seems that New Labour has no idea about Criminal Justice, and this can be seen in another Bill before Parliament: The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. In their time in power, New Labour has been responsible for creating something like 3,500 new Criminal Offences (most of which were covered more than adequately under existing offences). They constantly provide the police with more powers to deal with anti-social behaviour and the terrorist threat. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill is no different. In this Bill further powers will be given in dealing with anti-social behaviour. None of the current powers are working or being used effectively and simply giving more power to deal with anti-social behaviour is not going to make a bind bit of difference! The answer to the anti-social behaviour problem lies in Education, re-building community and respect (that has given me an idea for an entry – so look out of another one on anti-social behaviour in the near future).

Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Politics

Right to offend?

This entry take me back to one of my favourite topics that I blog on: Civil liberties. This is a question that is being posed on forum that I browse on a fairly regular basis: “do we have the right to offend?”

To set it in context, we are not talking here about offending in the legal sense, but in the sense of saying or doing things which upset or may upset other people.

Personally I am of the opinion that we do not, but it is certainly something we should have. I cannot for the life of me remember who said it, but who ever said “without freedom to offend, the freedom of expression ceases to exist” had it spot on in my book.

The right or freedom to offend and the right or freedom to free expression are intrinsically linked and both rely on each other. Of course, we must all respect each others right to hold and express beliefs or opinions (there is, in my opinion, no obligation to respect the opinion itself).

I want to begin by looking at religion as it is an area that I feel, causes many of the disputes over freedom of expression. We are often reminded by people who follow a religion that it is their right to do so and their right to assemble together to worship and practice this religion. I have no problem with this. However, what I do have a problem with is when debating with people as to whether God exists (and debates along those lines) that I must respect their freedom of expression. Hang on a minute, what about MY Freedom of expression. I am also afforded the right to express what I believe in (which is that there is no god), though if it offends you. I’ll take an example. Before I go into this little anecdote I would like to say that this was said in Jest at the time. There was a debate between the Debating Society and Christian Union at my university and I was on the Debating society panel. The motion which we were debating was “This house believes that God is dead”. I will not bore you with the entire debate, as the definition of the motion was, in the end, very complex (as it usually is when I have any say in how the motion is to be defined!) The speaker before me spoke about hearing the word of God and how God speaks to us all. So, being the offensive debater that I am, I stand up and give what I would probably define as the most offensive five minutes I have ever produced in a debate. The vast majority of my five minute speech was based around suggesting that Christians (and in particular those who hear the voice of Jesus and God) are Schizophrenics (yes, I know there is an idea out there that there is a form of psychosis called ‘Christ Psychosis’). Most took this as it was meant: in jest (they mainly grasped that university level debating can often become very offensive, especially when controversial motions are involved). However, one or two attacked me in the floor debate for being offensive and then went on to moan about their rights to freedom of expression and religious conscience. I see this as double standards. Essentially, what I am trying to say here is that if I or anyone else wishes to be offensive about religion then that should be allowed on the condition that both sides respect the others right to freedom of expression.

I want to continue by looking at it in a political context and taking the British National Party as a case in point. The BNP are treated as a second class party officially in many ways. Some examples include the way they are not allowed to stand on the main stage when the results of elections are being announced along with the other candidates. Now, I do not agree with the views of the BNP. However, I would defend to my death their right to hold and express their views. I see the way we try and ban them as very dangerous. Essentially, we are driving them underground and this is where they can do more damage. I’m all for allowing them to express their views and add them into the political debate. In my opinion, the best way to prove their views are indeed abhorrent, repugnant and ludicrous is to demonstrate this through reasoned political debate. Simply trying to ban them on the pretence that their views are offensive and may upset some people (even if these some people are in fact the majority) is not in the sprit of a free and democratic society. You may remember the controversy surrounding the decision of the Oxford Union to invite the BNP to speak there. I was in support of that, knowing that those in the Oxford union are more then capable of debating in a sensible and reasoned manner to help demonstrate that their views are indeed repugnant.

Finally, before this turns into another essay, I will say that I also agree that these freedoms cannot be absolute and there must be some qualification to them. However, this qualification should be kept to a minimum and only where there is a strong case of protecting national security (or something to that gravity) should restrictions be placed upon it. For example, it is quite reasonable that members of the Intelligence services are bound by law not to disclose privileged information which they have come into the knowledge of during the course of their duties which could pose a threat to the safety and security of the country (however, such laws should not be used to conceal Government corruption).

I do hope that this has made sense, and please feel free to comment if you agree or disagree with what I have said above.

Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, English Law, Human Rights, Legal System, Politics, Rant, Scots Law

The Civil Liberties of the British People

I find myself, again, blogging about Civil Liberties in the United Kingdom. I was reading The Independent during a break at work and came across this story and this story. It is really disappointing that in 2008 we must fight in order to protect and get back what we hold most dear to us: our liberties!

Since the abhorrent attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 the Labour Government of this country has passed rafts of legislation curtailing our civil liberties under the guise of protecting us from Terrorism. Helped by the media, they’ve create a fear that need not exist in order to pass right-wing, draconian laws that aim to track and control the population of the United Kingdom. The terrorists seek to destroy our way of life and the Government is giving them what they want while telling the British people that we must not let them win and we must not let them destroy our way of living.

Britain prides itself on it’s Human Rights record and its liberal Civil liberties, it’s so proud that it acts as the democracy police (along with the USA) and exports these into countries around the world. The Government talks about the lack of Civil Liberties and Human Rights in far away countries such as China while systematically destroying OUR civil liberties.

Some in Britain talk of boycotting the Olympic Games this year; I say forget about China’s lack of Human Rights and Civil Liberties and fight to get our own ones back. Upsetting as it is that China and other such Nations do not have civil liberties and Human rights, we are heading in the same way. We allow the Government to spread its propaganda favouring its draconian measures to curtail free speech, hold all of our personal data on one big National Identity Database, and detain people for 28 days without charge because we think they may be a terrorist. It’s an outrage. There was a time that this blatant disregard for the rights and freedoms of the British People would have caused a revolt (not that I advocate a revolution), but now we just accept the continuing curtailment by the Government as a need to protect our security.

We’re descending fast into an Orwellian world and I do not want to live in that kind of world. When will the proposals for CCTV in people’s homes monitored by the state be brought forward? Don’t fool yourself by saying it’ll never happen – it’s all so close to happening!