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Unmasking the State


Dark days for rights as attacks gather pace

A massive attack against deeply enshrined rights is gathering pace and the alarm bells are ringing in unlikely quarters.

Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger has used his first-ever interview to warn of the Coalition government’s attitude to the rule of law and thereby reveal the growing rift deep within the British state. He expressed in no uncertain terms his opposition to two major planks of government strategy, both of which have the enthusiastic backing of senior Labour former ministers.

He described as “slanted” attitudes towards the European Court of Human Rights, saying that those who want to send “nasty terrorists” back to countries where they may be tortured were clearly in breach of the UN Human Rights convention of 1948.

Neuberger added that “attacking judges” in the way that Home Secretary Theresa May has done repeatedly in relation to recent immigration cases, was “unfortunate” and “not a sensible way to proceed”.

May’s department is stinging from last week’s rebuff by High Court Mr Justice Wilkie who has rejected Home Office efforts to force through the deportation of failed Tamil asylum seekers.

Teaming up with May in opposition to human rights is Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. He has made it clear he wants any future Conservative government to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights.

Neuberger also criticised the severe restriction of legal aid from April when £350 billion of cuts come into force, warning that this would undermine the rule of law, because “people will feel like the government isn’t giving them access to justice in all sorts of cases”.

The judge’s concerns, however moderately crafted, acquire a more frightening aspect if they are taken together with the passage through parliament of the Justice and Security Bill.

Last night MPs voted against “safeguards” to curb the use of secret courts proposed in the Bill. Labour’s amendments were intended to make it more palatable to its numerous critics. But with the unstinting help of former Labour ministers David Blunkett, Jack Straw and Hazel Blears, the amendments failed by 71 and 73 votes, even though seven Lib Dems rebelled.

This gives minister Kenneth Clarke carte blanche to continue railroading his Bill through parliament. Clarke has made no secret that his enthusiasm for secret courts is totally on behalf of “our security services”.

A strange bedfellow in the campaign for rights, the Daily Mail, published an open letter signed by 702 legal figures, including 38 leading QCs, which warned that the plans for secret courts were “dangerous and unnecessary”. One legal expert even suggested that its provisions for Closed Material Procedures (CMPS) were intended to cover up UK “complicity in rendition and torture”.

The human rights charity Reprieve has called for complete opposition to secret courts, saying: “The right to hear and challenge the evidence used against you in court has been established in Britain for centuries. Yet plans for secret courts would sweep this away... ” Its head, Clare Agar, has rightly said that last night was “a dark night for British justice”.

The suggestion by The Guardian’s editorial today that undermining human rights is a “Tory” strategy is of course ludicrous. New Labour’s David Blunkett was just as, if not more gung-ho in attacking human rights legislation as the current administration.

Labour introduced detention without trial and was thwarted in its attempt to raise the time people could be held under anti-terror laws to 90 days. And let’s not forget the previous government’s plans for ID cards.

Behind the concerns raised by Britain’s most senior judges, lawyers and human rights defenders lie the ever-deepening resentment and suffering caused by austerity measures and the subsequent alienation of people from the state.

The urgent need to defend ancient legal rights as proposed in the campaign for an Agreement of the People for the 21st century could not be clearer. For that to happen, we need to create a new democratic, political system in place of the increasingly authoritarian one bearing down on ordinary people.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
5 March 2013

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Your Say

Dyl says:

Hilarious Teresa May's leadership ambitions. Equally scary is the way she just lets it be known that she would do away with the Human Righta Act if she was PM - as if the public thinks that's a good idea. Yet another example of MPs living on a different planet to the rest of us.

Jonathan Murray-Lacey says:

And then Assemblies will develop rights inherent in the New Social Formation - and on, and on, and on. Not at all scary: just a lot of collective work - which will diminish over time, i.e. developing abilities and decreasing needs, increased abilities new social and personal needs - who knew, of our ancestors, that we had within us the, speech and work, the wheel, the screw, the lever, the Web - in short: OURSELVES. We have within us - them.

Rada Daniell says:

This is a very, very scary stuff!

Jonathan says:

My point is simple - the defence of rights is a separate issue from the developments of rights not yet apparent - the first must reach the buffers whoever speaks out - this is a terminal crisis, therefore those defending must, sooner or latter - judges, QC, Lawyers; individually or collectively come over to Assemblies - it is just a matter as to when they collectively or individually break.

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