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.

GETTY
Show Hide image

Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.