Without human rights, there is no real justice

A real test for Nick Clegg.

It began as a farce. In April 2009, the Met's then head of counterterrorism, Bob Quick, was photographed carrying classified case documents outside No 10. The papers, labelled "Secret" (like a prop from a Peter Sellers movie), revealed details relating to an investigation that Quick was overseeing at the time. Unscrupulous journalists splashed the gaffe across the front pages. The Clouseau-esque assistant commissioner resigned, muttering about the "terrific price" he had paid for his "foolish" mistake.

But the real price seems to have been paid by the 12 men arrested in the panicked swoop that followed. Working to a "revised time scale", the police hastily apprehended suspects in Lancashire, Manchester and Liverpool. Jacqui Smith, then home secretary, called it a "successful" operation; but no explosives were found and all of the men -- most of whom were Pakistani students -- were released without charge.

Among them were Abid Naseer and Ahmed Faraz Khan, both 23. They are now at the centre of yet more media hysteria, fuelled no less by the civil-liberties-averse Tories. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) has granted their appeal against deportation on human rights grounds, but has insisted that Naseer is an al-Qaeda operative and that Faraz Khan . . . erm . . . may have thought about becoming one (or, as Judge Mitting somewhat absurdly puts it, he could "safely be taken to have been willing to participate").

Siac should have deported them, says the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who insists that "protecting the public is the government's top priority". Accordingly, the Lib-Con gang is "taking all possible measures to ensure they do not engage in terrorist activity".

"Measures", for now, means control orders -- a controversial form of house arrest that takes its name from a similar programme used in apartheid-era South Africa. The orders allow the loosely defined "terror suspects" to be restricted in movement for an indefinite period of time, without charge or trial.

Writing in the Times today, Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti calls control orders "profoundly unfair and un-British"; Nick Clegg, too, denounced them in opposition. But living under the orders is preferable to the torture that could await the students, if deported.

In the wake of Siac's seemingly contradictory act of asserting the suspects' guilt while allowing them to remain in the UK, the flag-wavers have started to vent their paranoia. The Tory MP Douglas Carswell, for example, has attacked the ruling as "shocking and outrageous", citing it as a clear illustration that "human rights are not working in the national interest".

He seems to want the students hoofed out at all costs, regardless of what is right in the eyes of the world.

The reaction is hardly surprising; the Tories have long been champing at the bit to scrap the UK's commitment to the Human Rights Act, in preference of a British Bill of Rights. Chakrabarti perfectly summarises the attitude when she criticises the Tory instinct to prioritise "English liberties" over universal ones: their conception of freedom "attaches to nationality rather than humanity".

Human rights legislation must not be looked upon as an inconvenience. It is worrying that some voices among the Liberal Democrats -- who have officially described control orders as "an affront to British justice" -- seem to be echoing this reactionary sentiment. On Tuesday, the Liberal peer Lord Carlile said: "We do not want people who have been held to be terrorists walking our streets." But if they have been "held to be terrorists" in suspect conditions, surely the moral picture is clouded.

Sarah Kellas and Gareth Peirce, solicitors for Naseer and Faraz Khan, said in a statement:

The decision of Siac today in respect of the two students we represent is in fact, for them, the worst of all worlds. On the basis of secret evidence, which it refuses to disclose to the students, the court tells the world in its judgement that they are closely connected to an al-Qaeda plot to cause explosions in the UK.

The court acknowledges they have not been told why it comes to this conclusion, yet these young men have been branded publicly and thereby exposed to personal danger for the rest of their lives. Siac, moreover, refused them permission to appeal against its decision on the basis that they had "won".

This doesn't sound like British justice to me. It is hardly believable that such cases -- which make use of secret evidence, and refuse to disclose even to the suspects what makes them "terrorists" -- are being used to paint a picture of human rights GONE MAD (as the tabloids would have you believe).

Let's hope that the next five years don't lead to a free fall in the very values that define the UK: our universal rights to life and fairness.

Yo Zushi is a sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

Paul Marotta
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England is now a more expensive place to study than the US. Why?

Is a university education in this country really worth £44,000, and how does our system compare to higher education funding elsewhere?

England has long sneered at American universities and their exorbitant fees. It cannot do so any longer: England is now a more expensive country to study than the US, and is easily the most expensive of eight Anglophone countries – the four UK nations, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US – analysed in a new Sutton Trust report. English students graduating from last year left university with an average of £44,000 in debt £15,000 more than Americans studying at for-profit universities across the pond.

Why do English students have it so much worse than other students in the UK? There are two answers. The first is the government's decision in 2010 to shift much of the cost of university from the general taxpayer to the beneficiaries: the students themselves. The second answer is devolution. The devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have made political choices to differentiate themselves from Westminster by prioritising keeping fees down – even when, as in Scotland, the effect is to benefit middle-class students at the expense of disadvantaged ones. Students in Wales who study in England are eligible for generous grants, meaning they pay less than £4,000 a year rather than up to £9,000. Those studying in Northern Ireland have their fees capped at £3,925. 

Even England's £9,000 fees are puny set against those at elite American universities. In 2016/17 annual, tuition fees at Harvard are $59,550 and, when all else is accounted for, Harvard reckon each year costs students $88,600. But such exorbitant numbers are not the real story. About 60% of Harvard students receive the Harvard Scholarship: a microcosm of how US students benefit from a culture of graduates giving endowents to their old universities that is still lacking in England. Scholarships and bursaries at universities in the US are far more generous than in other countries. And those who go to public universities within their own state pay far less: those graduating after four years leave with an average debt of only US$27,100 [£19,100]. This is why the average debt of US graduates is now considerably less than in England. But those who berate that even America now has a more benign system for students than England should not be so hasty. The majority of US loans are not income contingent, meaning that low earners who are already struggling still have to pay.

Governments throughout the world are grappling with how to fund send an increasing proportion of students to university in an era of austerity. In the last two decades at least 14 countries in the OECD, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, have implemented major reforms to fees, according to the Sutton Trust. In general these reforms have led to students paying a greater share of the cost of their tuition. 

So in a sense what has happened in England is merely an extreme example of an international trend. And the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, which have been hiked up twice since, has been managed better than most acknowledge: indeed, the proportion of disadvantaged students at university has actually risen by one-fifth since tuition fees rose to £9,000.

But, with the poorest students in England now graduating with £50,000 in debt, more students will be driven to ask whether a university education is really worth it. For a small but significant minority, it isn’t. A recent IFS report found that male graduates from 23 low performing institutions – though it sadly declined to name them - earn less, on average, than those who do not go to university, and end up with huge debt to boot.

No matter how expensive a university education has become, not having one is even more expensive. Throughout the world demand for university education continues to soar; in England the average graduate premium is £200,000 over a lifetime. Yet too many dunce universities are saddling students with debt without giving them anything in return.    

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.