Tag Archives: Human rights

It’s About More Than Damian Green

As I mentioned last year, following the victory of the S and Marper case against the British government in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Home Office became obliged to remove innocent people from the National DNA Database. Not only then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith showed a lack of interest in doing so, but then this month the for-profit policing organisation ACPO outright instructed Chief Constables in England and Wales not to comply with the ruling. Makes it interesting when Tory shadow cabinet minister Damian Green then finds himself able to be taken off the database:

Damian Green, the Conservative frontbench immigration spokesman whose arrest during a Home Office leaks inquiry sparked a parliamentary storm, has won a four-month battle to have his DNA, fingerprint and police records destroyed.

The Metropolitan police told Green’s lawyers he is to be treated as “an exceptional case”. His DNA sample and fingerprints, taken when he was arrested, will be deleted within “a number of weeks”.

Green last night welcomed the decision “as a small but significant victory for freedom” but asked when DNA samples and profiles of 850,000 other innocent people who had been arrested but never charged would be destroyed.

Now why should a Tory front bencher (likely to be in government in the next 12 months) be able to force the Met to change their position on the DNA database, when so many others can’t? Green has the same question:

The home secretary is dragging his feet in producing even a consultation document in response to the European court’s ruling, which destroys the legal basis of current policy. So the policy, which intrudes on the privacy of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, could remain in place for months.

Britain is at the extreme end of this kind of state intrusion. At the end of September 2008, the national DNA database contained computerised DNA profiles and linked DNA samples from approximately 4.7 million individuals (more than 7% of the UK population). This is a much higher proportion of the population than any other EU or G8 country.

It’s quite unthinkable that the Home Office should so willingly ignore the ECHR’s ruling, although less so for the Association of Chief Police Officers, who contrary to popular belief aren’t even a government body. It might make political sense for both to limit their future embarrassment at a government minister with his DNA on the register, but their compliance with the ECHR ruling should be paramount. It’s a joke, as Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti points out, for decisions about which innocent people get their DNA removed from the database to be determined by whether or not they have an entry in Who’s Who! Liberty’s response has been to begin ‘DNA clinics’ in Hackney alongside local MP Diane Abbott, to begin helping people locally who have had their DNA retained illegally. Liberty says:

“If Damian Green MP can have his DNA destroyed in record time, young people in Hackney should be entitled to the same. Those without a powerful voice are just as innocent, yet the police seem to find their requests for DNA destruction considerably easier to dismiss.

Forty percent of Britain’s criminals are not on the database but hundreds of thousands of innocent people are. The National DNA database is one of the largest in the world, holding 4.5 million profiles – this includes around 300,000 children and approximately 850,000 innocent people who have never been charged or cautioned.

And Abbott provides an important reminder why it’s important to begin this process in somewhere like her constituency:

[But] as the Home Affairs Select Committee pointed out this month, black men are disproportionately represented on the database. In particular there are tens of thousands of completely innocent young people who have been stigmatised in this way. It is time that the government acted on the ECHR ruling that automatic retention of DNA is wrong. And I am looking forward to working with Liberty to make sure that young people in Hackney who are innocent of any crime can have their DNA taken off the government’s database just like Damian Green”

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Can’t Be British if You Protest!

More bonkers, illiberal garbage from the New Labour Home Office, attacking once again the civil liberties of migrants:

Immigrants who take part in anti-war demonstrations could jeopardise their chances of getting British citizenship under new government proposals, a Home Office minister said today.

Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, said people would have to “earn” their citizenship under plans being unveiled this morning for a new points system for immigrants seeking a British passport.

The government has already introduced a points system for immigration. But once immigrants have been working legally in Britain for five years, it is relatively easy for them to qualify for citizenship.

Asked about this on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Woolas said: “We think it’s right to say if we are asking the new citizen, as incidentally other countries around the world do, to have an oath of allegiance to that country, that it’s right to try to define in some objective terms what that means. And clearly an acceptance of the democratic rule of law and the principle behind that we think is important and we think it’s fair to ask that.”

But, when it was pointed out that demonstrating was not illegal, Woolas suggested that an applicant could also lose points not just for breaking the law – but also for engaging in certain activities that were legal.

Sarah Montague, the presenter, asked: “Are you effectively saying to people who want to have a British passport, ‘You can have one, and when you’ve got one you can demonstrate as much as you like, but until then don’t’?”

Woolas replied: “In essence, yes. In essence we are saying that the test that applies to the citizen should be broader than the test that applies to the person who wants to be a citizen. I think that’s a fair point of view, to say that if you want to come to our country and settle, you should show that adherence.”

Woolas claimed that migrants themselves would support this stance.

I think he’s stark raving mad. I challenge him right here right now to find someone who has migrated to this country and wants to become a British citizen, who can comprehend how protesting against illegal wars can make them undesirable to become British. Does that mean I should no longer be British? And what of the demand that immigrants should accept the democratic rule of law, when the state itself decides it doesn’t have to? Mehdi Hasan is right when he asks:

Is Woolas out of his mind? This is the authoritarian mindset of a Politburo member circa 1972, not the views of a Labour minister (a Labour minister!) in a democratic British government in 2009. “Adherence”? Since when did loyalty and support for Britain translate into loyalty and support for the British state, British government and various misguided “official” policies and proposals, of which today’s consultation paper on citizenship is only one?

This is a nasty, authoritarian government, now mostly out of control. Let’s hope it doesn’t last much longer.

McKinnon’s Extradition Will Be Unjust

I know it, you know it, Alan Johnson knows it, Gordon Brown knows it. Barack Obama might even know it, but not one of them has the balls to challenge the massively unjust 2003 Extradition Act. After all the Labour Party had the chance to review it in parliament a couple of weeks ago and by doing so aiding Gary McKinnon, but they thought playing party politics (aka business as usual) made more sense. McKinnon appears now to have lost his legal battle:

The high court decided against overturning a refusal by Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, to sanction a trial of the 43-year-old “UFO eccentric” in Britain.

Alan Johnson, the home secretary, is unlikely to halt the extradition. He has said a thorough assessment was carried out to ensure that the necessary extradition criteria were met.

McKinnon has admitted hacking into the computer systems of the US defence department and Nasa, but his supporters argued his obsessions led to his misguided hacking activities from his flat in Wood Green, north London, and that he should be tried in Britain.

The government’s independent reviewer of anti-terrorist legislation, Lord Carlile, intervened to say that prosecuting McKinnon in the US would be “cruel and unconscionable” because of his medical condition.

It’s quite appalling for Johnson to say ‘the necessary extradition criteria were met’ – of course they were. This law is so screamingly unjust the ‘necessary criteria’ would always be met – the US government doesn’t even have to provide evidence as ‘necessary criteria’ for goodness’ sake! Liberty‘s Anita Coles sets out the organisation’s position:

Liberty certainly does not argue there is no need for extradition: fugitives from justice should not be afforded blanket protection from prosecution. However, as with all aspects of the criminal justice process, there is a need for safeguards to ensure that injustice is not committed in the name of expediency. Extradition is a trauma in and of itself. It involves forcible removal to a foreign country away from family, friends and legal advisors. You may not know the language or legal system and you almost inevitably face imprisonment pending trial because being a foreigner ensures you are considered a flight risk.

Gary McKinnon is likely to face pre-trial imprisonment and a long jail sentence if found guilty. Many argue “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” but Gary McKinnon was sitting in his home in North London using his mother’s computer and our parliament has not imposed such severe sanctions for the conduct alleged. This does not mean he should avoid prosecution altogether, but it does raise the question as to where is the most appropriate place for him to be tried. Arguably it is in the UK – all of the actions constituting the alleged offence took place here.

In these circumstances Liberty believes a UK court should be given the opportunity to bar extradition if it would be in the interests of justice to do so.

It’s absurd that a law which was introduced to fast-track terrorist extradition after 9/11 should be used in this fashion, it’s shameful that the British government signed up to legislation with so few safeguards, but Alan Johnson is unbothered:

Some have argued that McKinnon’s case shows the law is wrong — that British citizens are at the mercy of an unjust extradition act and subsequent treaty with the United States. I disagree. The 2003 Extradition Act replaced the cumbersome existing legislation that couldn’t respond fast enough in an age where crime is increasingly indifferent to national borders. Without it we couldn’t have implemented the European arrest warrant to have Hussein Osman speedily extradited from Italy following his involvement in the failed terrorist attacks of July 21, 2005.

Typical New Labour spin. Johnson doesn’t just set up a straw man argument in invoking Osman, but he makes it appear as though the issue in the McKinnon case is chiefly his legal inability as Home Secretary to block the extradition itself. What I say is this: so what that the government got lucky with Osman – it doesn’t mean that the legislation is any good, nor that the absence of safeguards against abuse of the legislation is just. Should we really champion an arrangement where we might get lucky extraditing one highly dangerous terrorist, at the cost of people like Gary McKinnon or Andrew Symeou? The parliamentary Labour Party must stop its obsessive points-scoring behaviour and allow the Extradition Act to be amended – the means how can be read here.

Is Your ID Safe?

Liberty has put up a short film about the government’s propensity to lose the electorate’s data. With them continuing to pursue their National Identity Register, how safe will that data be?

Cooperate With the Police? You Must Be Joking!

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) today released a strong condemnation of the Metropolitan Police’s tactics at the G20 protests today, and in today’s Guardian the committee’s chair Andrew Dismore makes further recommendations to improve things for future protests:

Traditionally, protest has involved a march from A to B and a rally at the end. Organisers know how to set these types of protest up and steward them, and the police know how to police them. Discussion between organisers and police normally facilitates the arrangements to the benefit of both.

However, we are now seeing the development of more innovative protest tactics such as climate camp and the G20, which provide new challenges for the police. This has resulted in mutual frustration and distrust between police and protesters. Both sides must share information to enable a demonstration to take place safely and effectively. It is clear the communication at the G20 both before and during the protest was poor. Before the event, climate camp’s legal team found it very difficult to even make contact with the appropriate officers at the Met and when a meeting was eventually arranged late in the day there was no effective dialogue.

Except the climate camp and G20 didn’t provide new challenges for the police. Each event promised large-scale (but nothing compared with the 70s or 80s) peaceful protests, and that was exactly what was delivered. Frustration for the police, when it was the G20 protesters who tried to talk to the Met, and were resoundingly rebuffed? It’s all well and good Dismore recommending a point of contact in every police service, but the Met were geared up for trouble – they announced their intentions in advance and behaved accordingly on the day. Does he really think that they’ll take his recommendations on board? Given the Met’s predilection for violence that day, what incentives are there for protesters to respond to a ‘point of contact’ should one actually become available?

The Met decided there would be a ‘summer of rage’, setting up their operations with outlandish preconceptions – another case of Home Office solutions having problems fabricated for them, to make it look like they’re actually doing something. Until that changes, all of Dismore’s fine words won’t count for anything, and we won’t see an iota’s worth of change from the Met.

Human Rights Committee Slams Metropolitan Police

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has attacked the Metropolitan Police‘s handling of the G20 protests:

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) said that the widespread use of kettling, a tactic which pens protesters in behind large cordons for hours, did not give “sufficient weight” to the rights of individuals.

The report said: “In our view it would be a disproportionate and unlawful response to cordon a group of people and operate a blanket ban on individuals leaving the contained area, as this fails to consider whether individual circumstances require a different response.”

The MPs also criticised those officers who removed their identification numbers and urged service heads to use the strongest disciplinary action against them. They added that police had a “long way to go” before they fully respected human rights in their operations.

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.