Thursday, December 16, 2004

Blunkett - the aftermath

Manic at Bloggerheads reads the Sun so I don't have to. Today's topless lovely is sad to see Blunkett go. Poor love.

Meanwhile, DoctorVee has a round-up of last night's immediate responses from the Bloggosphere - sadly including mine before I noticed that in cutting and pasting I'd lopped off the end of a sentence - something Blunkett would never do (boom boom!).

However, initial hopes of an end to the ID card madness have been shattered. I sort of knew that they'd still go ahead with it, but still... I rather hoped some sense would be seen.

Then again, Charles Clarke is the man who, as Education Secretary, seemed to miss the entire point of higher education when he said "I don't mind there being some medievalists around for ornamental purposes, but there is no reason for the state to pay for them".

Coming soon from Home Secretary Clarke: "I don't mind there being some civil liberties around for ornamental purposes, but there is no reason for the state to protect them".

On the day that the Law Lords are due to rule whether the government's suspension of habeas corpus for "terror suspects" at Wandsworth prison (dubbed "Britain's Guantanamo") is actually legal, Blair hardly looks like he's trying to appease those of his critics who see the growing power of the state to keep tabs on its citizens and imprison them at will as a move towards a police state.

But hey - it's the terrorists who hate freedom, right?

12 Comments:

Blogger ken said...

Are these terrorist suspects British citizens? If not then I do not see a problem, I would however totally agree that the government is moving towards a police state, backed by the opposition who probably think that when the wheel turns and they get back into power they would also like all these draconian power in their hands. The only party that seems to be against these moves is the Lib dems.

12/16/2004 11:03:00 am  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Some of them are British citizens, yes. If you buy into this being a time of war, I can understand the argument that the government should be able to lock up foreign nationals who pose a danger to the country. But they should still have the right to a trial.

During the Second World War, suspected German spies/saboteurs (the closest parallel to suspected terrorists I can come up with) always faced trial. Why should these people be any different?

Of course - sometimes there isn't enough evidence for a conviction, but strong reasons to suspect that they might be involved in terrorist activity. Fine - I buy that too. So why not have a law which allows (in special circumstances only) a judge to extend the period of imprisonment without trial by a month or two, allowing for constant review?

At the moment we can effectively lock up anyone we like and throw away the key - including you or I should the police simply say they suspect us of terrorism. How long until people start denouncing their neighbours for being terrorists?

Suspicion is now all that is needed for imprisonment - evidence means nothing, and the assumption is "guilty until proven innocent". That is not what goes on in a civilised society - in fact it's dangerously reminiscent of Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany.

12/16/2004 11:16:00 am  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Oh, and as for the Lib Dems - yep, they seem to be living up to their name fairly amply.

If only they can get rid of some of their more silly policies, and if the Great British Public started paying any attention to them, their basic ideas seem more than enough to attract many who want to abandon both Labour and the Tories over this new drive towards totalitarianism.

Still, like many, I'm not convinced that they'd be capable of running the country - their perennial problem. Then again, I'm not convinced Labour or the Conservatives are capable of running the country either...

12/16/2004 11:21:00 am  
Blogger ken said...

The Law lords have now decided that the government is wrong to hold these people 8-1.
Of course I am sort of on difficult ground, but I would have thought that as these people are not British subjects they have no automatic right of entry into the country, it would be much simpler to refuse them entry, I also understood that they have never been prevented from leaving the country.

I take your point about the police powers, we do seem to be heading toward a police state, the suspension of habeas corpus for any British subject is totally against the British Constitution such as it is. It rather makes me wonder, as habeas corpus is a basic principal of the British System of law, why the Law Lords had to use the European Convention on Human Rights to combat the anti-terrorism law, partly because the key section only applied to foreigners and not to British subjects. Are they ignoring the rights of British subjects by not finding against the anti-terrorism law under our own laws, they could have used the Bill of Rights 1689 which is still on the statute books.

12/16/2004 12:55:00 pm  
Blogger Matt said...

Unfortunately, the suspension of habeus corpus is entirely constitutional; it's a rather common government tactic against any form of subversion and has been since the eighteenth century. The Bill of Rights has nothing to do with it.

12/16/2004 02:28:00 pm  
Blogger ken said...

Matt can you explain please, The British Cosntiuion allows for a suspension of a basic right.

12/16/2004 02:51:00 pm  
Blogger Friendly Fire said...

Clarke’s first major public statement since taking up his Home sec post was to announce that the alleged terrorists will stay in jail despite the ruling of the Law Lords that their detention without charge/trial was illegal.

Whether this means they will stay until trial or they will stay I don’t know.

12/16/2004 03:47:00 pm  
Blogger Matt said...

Sorry for not replying sooner, Ken. I'd gone away to hold a seminar.

Habeas corpus has been suspended many times. For instance, it was suspended in the eighteenth century as a precautionary measure against both Jacobites and revolutionary republicans. In the twentieth century it has been suspended in connection with Irish terrorism. It is not part of some sort of immutable British Constitution (as it is in the US and as I wish it were here).

While in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution the Convention Parliament declared in the Bill of Rights that 'the pretended power of suspending the laws or the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal', it's important to note that laws could still be suspended WITH the consent of Parliament, as is the case today. The Bill of Rights was more concerned with establishing once and for all the privileges of Parliament than the rights of individual citizens(as one should expect from an act passed in the late seventeenth century, well before the conceptualisation of human rights).Also, it's important to remember that no Parliament can bind the actions of future parliaments. Essentially, if Parliament says something is all right, then it is all right.

But I'm just a constitutional historian. If there are any constitutional lawyers out there who can put me right, I'd be glad of it.

12/16/2004 04:01:00 pm  
Blogger ken said...

Thanks for the explanation, only one thing which I hope you won’t mind, The Bill of Rights was a stautary act of Prliament, as such it cannot be Impliedly repealed, and has never been expressly repealed and is still in place as an act of Parliament. Your suggestion that one parliament cannot bind a furture parliament has been an agreed parlimentary principal but is not reconised in law, where as the Bill of Rights is. I do not think that even if true the above would have any meaning to habeus corpus It is just an interesting point.

12/16/2004 04:34:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Ken, Matt is much more of an expert on this area than I - I'm not too hot on the details as it's been some years since I did this - he's still heavily involved in this period every day. I may get some of the details of this wrong.

The Bill of Rights was just the start of a constant evolution of its central principles - which is how the English constitution (and, indeed, English law) works - it evolves by a process of general adherence to convention and precedent, until parliament or a court alter aspects of it, at which point a new precedent is set. This can be done at any time, and new precedents can likewise be reversed at any time.

The 1689 Bill was certainly one of the most important political documents ever committed to paper (it inspired the US Constitution, the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, after all), but - as I understand it - it has not been a part of English law (in its original form) for a fair while: it was superseded by the 1701 Act of Settlement, which was in turn in part replaced by the 1707 Act of Union.

The Bill of Rights has, therefore, not been part of English law since 1701.

It was also very much of its time: mostly concerned with settling the crown on William and Mary after the former had invaded this country and been declared king - itself illegal. Technically, according to prior precedent, the parliament of 1689 didn't have the authority to pass any laws, as it assembled itself during the crisis of 1688-9 without the permission of James II, who was legally king.

So you could, by your logic, equally make a case that the Bill of Rights itself has no legal basis as it was passed by an illegal parliament and confirmed by an illegal king.

But that in itself demonstrates the joys of the flexibility of an unwritten constitution - William III was illegally declared king by an illegal parliament, but then declared the parliament that declared him king to be legal, which meant that he was legally king.

(Matt - correct me if I've got this wrong)

12/16/2004 05:44:00 pm  
Blogger Matt said...

I'm sorry, but perhaps I'm missing your point.

In your original comment, you wondered why the fight against the anti-terrorism laws wasn't based upon the Bill of Rights. I'd say that's because there is nothing in the Bill of Rights for that to be the case. The Bill of Rights doesn't guarantee habeas corpus. In fact, it has nothing to say on the matter.

What the Bill of Rights does do is restrict the royal prerogative in such a manner that the Crown cannot govern, cannot raise taxes, without Parliament. It doesn't mention habeas corpus once. You are right to say that it has never been repealed, but it has been amended and superceded by other Acts of Parliament several times since it was first passed, not least by the Act of Settlement in 1701. (It was last amended to allow Neil Hamilton to go ahead in his ill-fated action against Mohammed al-Fayed.)

You then asked me to explain how it the British constitution allowed for the suspension of a basic right. There is no guarantee of basic rights in the British constitution. That was originally the point of the Human Rights Act (and even that's had key provisions suspended, because we live in a state of emergency). I'll repeat that habeas corpus has often been suspended. It's entirely constitutional to do so. I would prefer that not to be the case, but that's the difficulties and frustrations of our constitution for you.

12/16/2004 05:45:00 pm  
Blogger ken said...

Matt; No misunderstanding, I accepted your explanation and then asked a subsequent question, which was not intended as an attempt to refute your original points.

As you say Habeas Corpus has been suspended in the past by parliament, usually at times of terrorism and rebellion. But I have been looking at the whole issue surrounding the Bill of Rights and there are several interesting areas, I will follow with a post on my site because it think it is going to be too long for the comments section here, and in any case that would be going of on a tangent from this discussion.

12/17/2004 03:32:00 am  

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