Tag Archives: European Convention on Human Rights

Police Formally Ignore European Court

The police system in this country lurches from the banal to the ridiculous. After the victory of the S and Marper case against the government in the European Court of Human Rights in December, requiring innocent people’s DNA to be removed from the National DNA Database, then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith justified keeping them on because of the effectiveness of the database as a whole in preventing crime and bringing offenders to justice. Typically she failed to mention that the inclusion of innocent people’s DNA had played no role whatsoever in the effective use of the database – in fact during the largest growth period of the database, its effectivness fell. In May though she decided to subvert the rule of law and keep innocent people’s DNA on the database for up to twelve years. Now the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has instructed Chief Constables to ignore the S and Marper ruling entirely:

Chief constables across England and Wales have been told to ignore a landmark ruling by the European court of human rights and carry on adding the DNA profiles of tens of thousands of innocent people to a national DNA database.

Senior police officers have also been “strongly advised” that it is “vitally important” that they resist individual requests based on the Strasbourg ruling to remove DNA profiles from the national database in cases such as wrongful arrest, mistaken identity, or where no crime has been committed.

The advice to senior officers comes in a letter from the Association of Chief Police Officers criminal records office. The letter, seen by the Guardian, tells chief constables that new Home Office guidelines following the ruling in the case of S and Marper are not expected to take effect until 2010.

“Until that time, the current retention policy on fingerprints and DNA remains unchanged,” it says. “Individuals who consider they fall within the ruling in the S and Marper case should await the full response to the ruling by the government prior to seeking advice and/or action from the police service in order to address their personal issue on the matter.

“Acpo strongly advise that decisions to remove records should not be based on [the government’s] proposed changes. It is therefore vitally important that any applications for removals of records should be considered against current legislation.”

This move by ACPO should be seen in light of what ACPO actually is – a quango, and one which still supports the behaviour of the Metropolitan Police at the G20 protests. It is a private, for-profit advisory body, and not a constitutional arm of the police of the UK. Yet we are in an age where these extra-governmental bodies determine (and subvert) the rule of law (ISA anybody?) and public policy. Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne is right – it’s outrageous that the Home Office’s post-S and Marper guidance won’t be available until 2010, unacceptable that the government intends to use statutory instruments to bypass the will and scrutiny of the House of Commons in trying to sidestep the European Court, and even more outrageous that ACPO should feel able to ignore the European Court’s wishes altogether. The rule of law is being trashed by the institutions charged with being its ultimate guarantors – they must be stopped.


The Independent Safeguarding Authority Breaches Human Rights

Commentator shebunkin on the Observer’s Comment is Free asks:

between 11m – 14m people working with children or vulnerable people will have their privacy invaded, and be effectively treated as fitting a criminal profile by virtue of their occupation or voluntary activity. they will pay approx £80m for this priviledge – a tax which the non-profiled don’t have to pay. and it will achieve very little which could be termed ‘positive’ and much damage, including to children themselves. one or two people will strike gold – its an ill wind etc…

furthermore, it will be illegal to hire, and to work or volunteer in the prescribed fields of work. the citizen’s right to work will be predicated on registering on the database.

how can this disproportionate legislation be compatible with the human rights act?

You’d think it isn’t, but looking at the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) I can’t see an immediate loophole to exploit to strike the legality of the Independent Safeguarding Authority’s (ISA) existence down. The ISA’s mandate clearly breaches the Universal Declaration (article 23) however, but the UDHR isn’t enforcable under any law. The ISA may be a political disaster (and should be treated as such), but legally it’ll be difficult to get abolished.

If I’m wrong on this, I’d love someone to pick out the legislation’s weak spots. It does seem improbable that the Vetting and Barring Scheme should be able to rescind people’s rights to employment, for reasons wich aren’t based on law.

Control Orders Breach Human Rights Act

So the Law Lords have declared that the government’s policy of control orders breaches the Human Rights Act. This should surprise noone. By their very nature control orders are inhuman (and will be the subject of an imminent blog post from me, via Amnesty International), but the Lords found they breached the European Convention on Human Rights because they deprive those subject to them from the due process of law. Astonishingly new Home Secretary Alan Johnson argued that due process could justifiably be avoided:

The Home Office argued that it was sometimes possible to have a fair hearing without any disclosure depending on the circumstances of the case. Security-vetted special advocates are supposed to represent the interests of those placed on control orders in each case.

The terms of the control orders imposed on individual suspects by the home secretary include curfews at their home address of up to 16 hours, a ban on travelling abroad, all visitors to be approved by the Home Office, monitoring of all phone calls and a ban on internet and mobile phone use.

Johnson himself said:

“All control orders will remain in force for the time being and we will continue to seek to uphold them in the courts. In the meantime we will consider this judgment and our options carefully.”

He said control orders were introduced to limit the risk posed by suspected terrorists who could neither be prosecuted nor deported. “The government relies on sensitive intelligence material to support the imposition of a control order, which the courts have accepted would damage the public interest to disclose in open court.

“We take our obligations to human rights seriously and as such we have put strong measures in place to try to ensure that our reliance on sensitive material does not prejudice the right of individuals subject to control orders to a fair trial.”

So no change from the reshuffled government then. They actually believe it’s possible to have a fair trial with evidence against the plaintiff kept secret from them?

In the ruling, Lord Philips said: “A trial procedure can never be considered fair if a party to it is kept in ignorance of the case against him.”

This, New Labour, is why we hate you. Control orders have to go. House arrest – actual Big Brother levels of control – is condemned in Burma; it’s unthinkable for it to be continuing here against anyone, and it’s monstrous for Johnson to say the government takes its obligations to human rights seriously.

Liberty Annual Conference Liveblog

Liveblogging from Liberty’s 75th annual conference.

(edit: Some content remains on my Twitter feed but will be added to a write-up which I’ll work on in a few days)

All in all a brilliant day – notable in the three way disagreement between Jack Straw, Dominic Grieve and Lord Bingham over the Human Rights Act and the impending battle which even Shami Chakrabarti herself notes is likely to be the next big war over civil liberties and human rights in this country.

Click the link for the full liveblog. Full of drama but also some very current and relevant politics. This wasn’t a talking shop – with the Secretary of State for Justice, the former Home Secretary Jack Straw, this mattered. Read and comment if you are so moved. Continue reading

Big Brother Could Be In Your House

‘No police state’ says Jacqui Smith. The evidence however is everywhere that she’s wrong – we’re already there. The most recent proof being the Home Office responding to a decision by EU Council of Ministers by authorising the police to hack into computers without a warrant:

The hacking is known as “remote searching”. It allows police or MI5 officers who may be hundreds of miles away to examine covertly the hard drive of someone’s PC at his home, office or hotel room.

Material gathered in this way includes the content of all e-mails, web-browsing habits and instant messaging.

Under the Brussels edict, police across the EU have been given the green light to expand the implementation of a rarely used power involving warrantless intrusive surveillance of private property. The strategy will allow French, German and other EU forces to ask British officers to hack into someone’s UK computer and pass over any material gleaned.

Yes – warrantless. Your fundamental right to privacy and due process again trampled on on a whim, should you fall foul of the police for any reason, or indeed no reason. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty is quite right in saying this is exactly the same as someone smashing your front door in – it totally rescinds the right to privacy. The police get to determine who’s good, who’s bad, who’s worthy of surveillance and who’s worth leaving alone, rather than the courts or even just us.

Police say that such methods are necessary to investigate suspects who use cyberspace to carry out crimes. These include paedophiles, internet fraudsters, identity thieves and terrorists.

Nonsense. And it’s nonsense for a whole host of reasons. But let’s stick with the easy ones, like how it’s wrong to destroy the fundamental rights of the majority for the actions of a tiny minority. Like how rescinding the rights of the majority is a meaningless way to tackle the complicated issues surrounding paedophilia. Like how encouraging people to get shredders is a far more credible way of tackling identity theft. But no, Jackie Smith’s Home Office would prefer absolute control over the population.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said such intrusive surveillance was closely regulated under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Ah RIPA – the Act which is regularly abused by councils to spy on their local residents. In other words not closely regulated at all. But this isn’t the end of the story:

Ministers are also drawing up plans to allow police across the EU to collect information from computers in Britain.

I’m sure this falls foul of the European Convention on Human Rights in a fundamental way, so it’ll be interesting to see if Liberty does indeed launch a lawsuit to stop this from continuing.

(thanks to Josh)

Sally Murrer Defeats Police

You need to know about this story if you’re interested in the arrest of Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green. It illustrates beautifully the way in which the police don’t just continually overstep the mark, but prosecute people maliciously for doing what they’ve always done. In Green’s case it’s the norm for opposition MPs to hold the government to account, often by leaked documents which embarrass the sitting government. In Sally Murrer’s case, a local newspaper reporter who occasionally used a link with the Thames Valley Police for stories – normal practice for any journalist. Despite the fact that she never published any of the information, she was prosecuted under aiding and abetting misconduct in public office. Sound familiar? She was arrested, strip searched, held for 30 hours and told she’d go to jail for life.

Last week however:

the judge hearing the case, Judge Richard Southwell, ruled that Thames Valley Police had breached the journalists’ Article 10 rights and that effectively ended the prosecution.

Article 10 allowed her to protect her sources, which the police did everything in their power to stop. Particularly under these circumstances it’s staggering that the police would then try exactly the same tactics against a front bench opposition MP. Yet:

the Met knew about the Murrer case and its significance because it had advised Thames Valley officers on how to proceed with the investigation.

Also in the loop was the CPS, which decided on Friday to drop charges against Murrer and the policeman who leaked the stories to her. The Home Office, which began the leak inquiry that netted Mr Green, also knew about Murrer.

In the light of all that recent experience, one is left wondering why anyone in their right mind thought that it was sensible to arrest Mr Green.

Dennis MacShane highlights the insanity of arresting Green:

Does that make the MP above the law? No. The MP is in the same place as a judge in his chambers, the doctor in the consulting room, the lawyer in his office and at times the priest in his confessional. None of them are above the law, but the counter-terrorist police do not go storming into their offices to raid for material on the basis that something, anything might be found that can help them with their inquiries.

Under the gravest circumstances — a doctor who is a killer, a judge who is taking money, a lawyer who is complicit in terrorist ideology — then their professional privileges and protections can be lifted. There is not the slightest hint that such was the case when the police breached parliamentary privilege last week.

Remember national security wasn’t involved, nor was the Official Secrets Act. But current and former Home Secretaries Jacqui Smith and Jack Straw display no concern whatsoever to the dangers of the Metropolitan Police’s behaviour:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Indeed Smith essentially gives the police carte blanche again to do as they please, arguing that her responsibility in giving them ‘operational independence’ basically trumps any other concern. How could any right minded person believe that? It’s unimaginable surely to say that the police should be left alone to pursue an inquiry which everyone knows is unjust? Indeed given the precedent the Murrer case sets, how can either of them (particularly Justice Secretary Straw) justify allowing the police to continue to pursue Green when he clearly hasn’t engaged in criminal behaviour?

For the record check out Smith’s wording about any prior knowledge of Green’s impending arrest she may have had. She’s changed it from no prior knowledge whatsoever about the arrest to refusing to confirm whether she knew an MP (by implication Green) was under investigation. Considering she knew everything else, I bet (and hope) her words come back to haunt her.

EU Leaders Are Useless

You may have read my previous post about the Italian government’s decision and now action to fingerprint and register all the approximately 150,000 ethnic Roma in Italy – nearly half of them children, a state-sponsored act of appalling racism, the likes of which haven’t been seen in Western Europe since the Second World War. What’s struck me ever since this story broke, was the incredible silence resonating from European capitals. Where is Gordon Brown to stick up for human rights in the EU? Oh he’s too busy using his lackey Jacqui Smith to send gay Iranian, Ugandan and Syrian asylum seekers back to a certain death. Angela Merkel? José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero? Nothing. The EU capitals have been silent. In Brown’s case the situation in Zimbabwe was of paramount importance (and I’m not saying it’s not, because it is), except it seems at least as important to stamp out hatred based on difference at home too. That it’s occurring under the watch of Silvio Berlusconi (not to mention Italy’s highest appeal court) should make it all the more chilling.

But in the absence of anti-racist condemnation by European leaders it has been down to religious, community and civil society leaders to attack the scapegoating of the Roma:

Catholic human rights organisations have damned the fingerprinting of Gypsies as “evoking painful memories”. The chief rabbi of Rome insisted it “must be stopped now”. Roma groups have demonstrated, wearing the black triangles Gypsies were forced to wear in the Nazi concentration camps, and anti-racist campaigners in Rome this week began to bombard the interior ministry with their own fingerprints in protest against the treatment of the Gypsies.

Vincenzo Spadafora, the head of UNICEF in Italy said:

he was “seriously concerned”, adding that the government would be acting in a discriminatory fashion “unless it fingerprinted every child in Italy”.

And it took the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to start condemnation at a supra-national level:

“While I believe that Italian democracy and its institutions are mature enough to prevent any such ideas becoming laws, I am nevertheless concerned that a senior member of the government of one of Council of Europe member states is reported to have made such a proposal,” (Terry) Davis states.

It should be remembered that the Council of Europe was set up in 1949 to guarantee human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law in Europe. Maroni’s plan is a slap in the face to the Council’s remit of developing democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights (which the UK enshrined into national law through the Human Rights Act). But this is hardly be the first time a Council of Europe member or indeed EU member has ignored its own fidelity to the ECHR – take Blair’s and now Brown’s asylum policy. ‘Failed’ asylum seekers are criminalised, their persecution is explained away as imaginary, and some face violence even from the UK Border Agency’s enforcers:

(Stephanie Toumi) alleges: “The escorts threw themselves on me. One scraped me and I fell on my stomach, the other trapped my arms, twisting them behind and the other two put on handcuffs. I felt a very severe pain in my body and I wanted to twist my right foot to get up, but one of them totally paralysed this foot by giving me a sharp blow with his knee.

“When they finished handcuffing me one of them caught hold of my hair to lift me up. I felt ill as I have never felt ill all my life.” She alleges that when she started crying, the guards said: “Shut up, stupid whore.”
At Brussels airport, where the escort and the asylum-seeker were due to catch a flight to Cameroon, Belgian immigration officers noticed Ms Toumi was now unable to walk unaided and informed the escorts they would have to take her back to the UK.

An independent doctor’s report found her injuries were due to the alleged assault.

In Italy the castigation of the Roma is all the more appalling, given that many of them are Italian by nationality. Yet Thomas Hammerberg, European Commissioner for Human Rights points out:

“I visited Casalino 900 camp, where 650 or so Roma live,” he said. “There was no electricity, no water. It was a very bad slum.”

And the fear of the “ethnic register” was already rampant, he said, “due to what happened to them in the past in Germany and elsewhere. They also raised the question, why us? Why not others? Many of those in the camp I visited had been in Italy for 40 years; they came over from Yugoslavia, some of them still have problems with identity papers, squeezed between the old and the new country. If you’ve been in a country for 40 years, are you still a foreigner? This talk about fingerprints was another reminder that their status has never been settled.

“The basic problem of Roma is widespread in Europe: housing, health, education, employment, political representation… But for a long time in Italy the Roma have been a symbol of something that is unwanted.

And there you have it. The real problem is poverty and entrenched racism, yet it remains politically convenient and expedient to castigate an ethnic group for their own circumstances, in the case of the former Mayor of Rome Walter Veltoni, conflating their ethnicity with their nationality.

The European Parliament though has now intervened:

Italy’s fingerprinting of members of the country’s Roma community is a direct act of racial discrimination, the European Parliament has said.

In a resolution adopted by 336 votes to 220, MEPs called on Italy to bring the practice to an immediate halt

The resolution called on Italy “to refrain from collecting the fingerprints from Roma, including minors, as this would clearly constitute an act of discrimination based on race and ethnic origin”.

It also “condemned utterly and without equivocation all forms of racism and discrimination faced by the Roma and those seen as ‘gypsies'”.

Of course this isn’t binding, but it should be remembered that the UK government’s reversal of gay Iranian asylum seeker Mehdi Kazemi’s deportation followed intense international pressure which came in part from an EU Parliament resolution on the issue. But:

Italian newspapers have published pictures of officials taking fingerprints from gypsies living in and around the southern city of Naples and filing the prints according to religion, ethnicity and level of education.

We live in dangerous times. If the leaders of the G8 wonder why they’re held in such low regard it should have something to do with eating fine food whilst great swathes of the world starves. It should have something to do with patting Silvio Berlusconi on the back whilst at home a single ethnic group is surveyed, catalogued and generalised against for a problem which isn’t even there. Seumas Milne reminds us of a nominally left-of-centre party which operated on blind obedience to neoliberal economic policy, and whilst experiencing large scale immigration, fell after ignoring growing needs for jobs, housing and to combat exploitation. Britain would do well to learn urgent lessons from Italy’s current crisis.