EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION

Extraordinary Rendition is in the news again. If the truth be told, it’s never really gone away. It keeps turning up like a bad penny.

I struggle with the term, but as I understand it, it refers to the covert policy adopted by certain unnamed countries, like the United States [oops] who ‘detain’ unsavoury characters who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and let’s face it, they’re spoilt for choice. They then fly them, at taxpayers’ expense, to assorted banana, date or oil republics where human rights are but a hookah pipe dream, and stand idly by whilst these ‘detainees’ have the living s**t kicked out of them. The ‘disclosures’ flowing from this treatment are then factored into a database and used in the fight against terrorism.

That then leaves the thorny question of what to do with these unsavoury characters. They can’t be put on trial, or at least not in a ‘civilised’ country, as evidence obtained by s**t kicking is invariably inadmissible, so they are dumped unceremoniously in Guantanamo Bay, or if they’re lucky, in Good Olde Blighty where we operate an open door policy, or best of all, in Bermuda, much to Her Britannic Majesty’s displeasure. Dumping miscreants in the colonies went out with the dark ages.

But all this has a serious side to it. How far should investigators be allowed to go in pursuit of their version of the truth? English law has for centuries applied the rubric that a statement against self interest is the best evidence of guilt, so confessions are high on the list of things to do when assembling a water tight case. In the bad old days, where the suspect refused to play ball, the investigators simply invented a confession, and most of the time it worked. Then came along a few high profile cases where it could be shown that the confession was invented, so the rules were changed, requiring investigators to tape record interviews. To make matters worse, every suspect had to be offered the right to legal representation, and guess what? Where sharp eyed lawyers spotted a weak case, they advised their clients to say nothing, and the investigators were stuffed!

Then along came the IRA, euphemistically called the Irish troubles, and when bombing atrocities crossed to the mainland, there was public outrage and a demand for justice. Every Paddy and Mick with their roots firmly planted in God’s Green Acre was arrested and interrogated, but they too remained silent. So in 1996 the government brought in a law allowing juries to infer guilt from silence, and it has been used to some effect ever since. It sits uncomfortably with the right to silence, but needs must when the devil drives.

All these changes and endless fine tuning have the imprimatur of the state stamped upon them, and whether we like them or loathe them, they are, or should be, transparent. The problem with Extraordinary Rendition, or State sponsored torture, is that there are no rules, no safeguards for the suspect, innocent or guilty, and anything goes.

We as defenders of a civilised society have to strike a balance between right and wrong. If state sponsored torture is inherently wrong, what price the end game? Can it ever be justified, even if the information obtained saves lives? I am certainly in favour of eavesdropping, intercepts, and covert surveillance, so long as it doesn’t affect me, and if it does, I shall cry “human rights” from the roof tops. Question is, who will listen?

A WASTE OF SPACE

Lord Hoffman is no fool. He is the second most senior law lord in Little Britain, and by all accounts has a razor sharp intellect. But that’s not all we have in common. He is obviously an avid reader of my blog, and in a recent speech, has adopted my swingeing criticisms of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. He puts it more tactfully than I, but in substance he questions the need for a European dimension in English domestic law, and regards the Human Rights Act 1998 as at best unnecessary and at worst downright interfering.

A brief review of the reasons behind the Convention may be apposite. It came into being in 1950, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. All the signatories at the time were Johnnie Foreigners, and all had suffered, in one way or another, as a direct result of the conflict. They had either been occupied by the Master Race, or, like France, had come to an ‘accommodation’, or, like Italy, had started the war on the wrong side. Whilst Little Britain had endured its fair share of hardship, we held out against Jerry until the Americans came to our rescue.

In 1950 Europe was still emerging from the turmoil and human rights were as rare as hen’s teeth. France, which, according to the French, had liberated Europe from the Nazi menace single handed, turned their eyes northward to a nascent Germany, which, again thanks to the Americans and Marshall aid, was rebuilding itself at a commendable pace, and rapidly returning to centre stage of the European powerhouse, but without the goose stepping and all that went with it. More recently, Europe has been swollen by the accession of several former Soviet republics, where human rights had been honoured more in the breach than the observance.

Contrast all this with Little Britain, where we had enjoyed a sort of human rights from as long ago as 1215, where parliamentary democracy had been a way of life for centuries, and where the common law, supplemented by statute, was the envy of the world. That’s not to say it was all sweetness and light, mistakes were made, but we lived, and still live, under an enlightened rule of law. Johnnie Foreigner had very little to teach us in this regard, and to this very day, I remain astonished that the basic rights and freedoms of a civilised society need to be committed to paper at all. Freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, a ban on inhuman and degrading treatment, to mention but three, should surely be taken as read.

So in 1998, when Tony Blair’s New Labour government enacted the Human Rights Act, it was nothing more than an overt display of their European credentials after a period of indifference under the blessed Saint Margaret of Finchley and her limp wristed successor the totally useless John Minor. If ever there was a case of somebody promoted above his station, this was it.

But this display of European credentials came with a price. We adopted the Convention, warts and all, and virtually overnight, English domestic law found itself subservient to Strasbourg and the European Court of Justice.

Leaving aside the fact that on present estimates, there are over 100,000 cases pending for determination, with an average determination time of four years and counting, there are two major flaws in the interpretation of Convention rights. The first is the ‘right’ itself, enshrined in eleven fundamental Articles of varying hues and colours, and approaching any given right from Romania involves a different journey when approached from Holland, and so on and so forth. To coin a phrase, the breach of a right is in the eye of the beholder, and one sees it differently from another. In short, one size fits all doesn’t work. Secondly, the question of ‘proportionality’ has never been satisfactorily resolved. What may appear a good reason to ‘avoid’ an Article right in one country is not necessarily a good reason to avoid it in another.

There are times when Convention rights are taken to the extreme. Two egregious examples will suffice. Inmates of one Scottish prison are being paid compensation for slopping out, as this is in breach of their human rights. In the second case, a man, originally from east of Suez, recently complained that his human rights were being breached when he was prevented from cremating his grandmother on a bonfire in his back garden. And covert interception of telephonic transmissions, an essential tool in the fight against crime, is routinely challenged as a breach of the right to a private life.

And so it goes on. Everybody in the legal profession has his favourite. So back to Lord Hoffman. What do Convention rights give to Little Britain that we didn’t enjoy before 1998? Answers on a postcard please.

I hope that the next Conservative government will see the folly of this uneasy and unworkable partnership between English domestic law and European Convention rights. They should repeal the Human Rights Act, and let sanity and common sense prevail.

THE GADDFLY HAS LANDED

Breaking news! Paul Gadd, aka Gary Glitter, is back in the UK, albeit under protest, and as I write, will be welcomed with open arms by the fragrant Jacqui Smith, our ineffectual Home Secretary, clutching a Sex Offenders Protection Order [SOPO] in her hot little hand.

I have the deepest reservations about the efficacy of these protection orders, on two grounds. They don’t work when they should, and I question the right of any government to subject offenders to draconian restrictions which, on the face of it, breach their Convention rights under Articles 3 and 8, the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to private life.

I remind myself that Mr. Gadd spent three years in the Ho Chi Minh correctional facility in Ho Chi Minh City, having been convicted by the Ho Chi Minh Supreme Court of sexually abusing under age girls from the Ho Chi Minh School of Spiritual Enlightenment. Is this a personality cult, or what!?! Whatever happened to good old Hanoi? Anyway, Paul’s three years in choky amounts to a six year sentence here in the UK, and time and enough to repent of his transgressions.

All this nonsense started with the Sex Offenders Act 1997, amended by the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, and further amended by the Sexual Offences Act 2003, but after all the huff and puff, nobody stopped to think it through. The need for this scattergun legislative overload was apparently in response to “public concern” over predatory paedophiles roaming our streets, ready to jump out on unsuspecting children. Until then, most “right minded members of society” thought that a peedofile [sic] was something to do with horny feet.

On latest estimates, there are now 30,000 on the Register, and at least half of them shouldn’t be there. The consequences of registration, as Paul Gadd is about to find out, are out of all proportion to the perceived risk that registrants are supposed to pose. It involves regular and constant monitoring of every movement, with visits from the police and the supervising officer at all hours of the day and night. Restrictions on contact with minors is understandable, but extending the definition of minors to young persons up to the age of 18 jars uneasily with the lowering of the age of consent to 16. And finally, there are restrictions on overseas travel.

If a determined predatory paedophile chooses not to conform, there is little the authorities can do about it. All he has to do is up sticks and move, and then ‘decline’ to register his new address. He may be picked up if he’s unlucky, but the chances are slim. He can change his name, his appearance [note to Paul Gadd, dump that ridiculous Ho Chi Minh goatee beard] and he’s foot loose and fancy free to commit further crimes if he’s so inclined, or better still, get on with the rest of his life.

There may be an argument for registering our most dangerous offenders, but this “come one, come all” approach isn’t working, and worst of all, it’s simply unfair.

I NO ME RITES

It’s enough to make strong men weep! I refer to reports on the topic of knife crime, now filling almost every page of the tabloids, and if nothing else, we’re not short of advice.

But what makes me weep is the response to the tentative suggestion that airport style metal detectors might be installed in schools to catch pupils carrying knives or other offensive weapons. The response is that this might be in breach of their human rights!!!!!!!!!! Even as I write, lawyers of indeterminate provenance are waiting in the wings, and might well be retained, on legal aid of course, by the loving and caring single parents of these pupils, no doubt to accompany them to the school gates and serve a writ on the unsuspecting headmaster [or should that be headteacher?]

Presumably, these are the same pupils who score extra marks in the SAT exams for spelling “f**k off!” correctly, and can, if the mood takes them, stab to death the headteacher at the school gates. How short are the memories of these misguided fools!

But what about the human rights of the teaching staff, or the law abiding pupils who risk injury, and worse still, death, if they “give the wrong look” in the playground? More like a war zone!

The sad truth is that we’ve lost a whole generation through the breakdown of the family unit, the irrelevance of the Anglican Church as a force for good, and the obdurate refusal of this and previous governments to tackle the appalling state of comprehensive education, where pupils can barely spell their own name [they get extra marks in their SATs if they can], let alone read and write fluently. So until the New Jerusalem, we have no option but to use the “sticking plaster” approach. But a sticking plaster is better than nothing, so my advice to these schools is to hold fast and tell the lawyers what they can do with their writs. Better still, invite them to spend a day at school. It’s a very sharp learning curve, but if it helps common sense to prevail, it’s a day well spent.