Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Judge’s View on the Law and How to Protect It

Lord Bingham, until he recently retired, the most senior British judge was interviewed for The Guardian by Stephen Moss in connexion with the publication of his recent book, The Rule of Law. Bingham’s last three jobs were Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice, and senior Law Lord. One imagines he is a man who knows the law. He unequivocally condemns the Iraq war of 2003 as illegal:

I took the view which Michael Wood and Elizabeth Wilmshurst [legal advisers to the Foreign Office in 2003] took—that it simply wasn’t authorized. The whole of the Foreign Office thought this… It is not at all clear to me what, if any, legal justification of its action the US government relied on… If I am right and the invasion of Iraq… was unauthorized by the security council, there was a serious violation of international law and the rule of law… It is, as has been said, “the difference between the role of world policeman and world vigilante”.

Yet Jack Straw told the Chilcot inquiry he often ignored the legal advice his law officers at the Home Office as well as the Foreign Office gave him!

Michael Wood drew attention to the fact that the ministerial code obliges ministers to act in accordance with national and international law, so it isn’t really good enough to say I don’t take the advice of law officers.

Can anyone tell me how these New Labour ministers, from Tony Blair onwards and downwards, manage to get away with such cavalier disregard for the law, and centuries old British parliamentary and ministerial convention that is meant to save us from fascists. Isn’t it plain that it does not do what it is supposed to do, because a bunch of crypto fascist neoconservatives have taken over Labour as New Labour, and have done just as they wanted in office. And no one is raising a stink about it.

It is one thing to enjoy parliamentary privilege, which is the right to be able to say in Parliament anything an MP thinks has to be said without fear of libel actions or jail—something irrelevant to the fiddling of expenses—but it is another to march roughshod over the country’s hard earned laws and customs, meant to protect us, the people, from becoming subjects and not citizens. New Labour’s thirteen years of legal flatulence has made us subjects again—subjects of any undemocratic authoritarian government, one that has put in place every requirement for a fascist putsch. Why is no one outraged at the unknown number of super injunctions that stop us from knowing what is going on? Why are students not incensed, especially now that Labour is hitting them and their universities harder than ever while continuing to feed the country’s wealth to the bankers? Why are there no lawyers willing to risk being jailed to protect the sanctity of the law?

Lord Justice Bingham notes that the government is using the threat of terrorism to erode our basic freedoms. He approves of Benjamin Franklin’s dictum:

He who would put security before liberty deserves neither.

Precisely, and that is where we are! Bingham believes we are getting the delicate balance between liberty and security wrong:

Liberty is losing out at the moment. Extraordinary inroads are being made into principles that would once have been regarded as completely inviolate, such as the growing practice of putting material [evidence] before some decision-making tribunal or judge that the defendant never sees. When I talk to the young, I’m struck by how, even when they have impeccably liberal instincts on things like torture and the death penalty, they tend to make an exception for terrorists. They’ve grown up in a world post-9/11 in which terrorism has been seen as this colossally potent threat.

The danger of terrorism is no more serious than it was in the seventies and eighties, probably less so, but the threat to hard won liberties is indeed real! Thus Bingham’s Belmarsh ruling in 2004 was that indefinite detention without trial of foreign terrorist suspects was incompatible with the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. He is proud of it because he felt “the stakes were quite high”. Plainly there are. They put anyone at risk of the same treatment. What can ever be just about jailing, without trial or evidence and possibly forever, someone who is merely a suspect? That is now British law!

Someone thinks someone else might commit a crime so they are confined for an indefinite time. It is the Inquisition. It is witch hunting. It most certainly has nothing to do with any concept of justice. Yet who is bothering. Lord Bingham seems to believe there is nothing to be done to defend good law other than through the ballot box. But no UK party is promising to remove all the bad law New Labour has brought in, and they are all complicit in the neoconservative terrorism myth. So the ballot box can solve nothing. What then? Bingham says, if that fails, we should turn to revolution!

Supposing a government came into power that wanted to introduce a whole lot of measures borrowed from the statute book of Nazi Germany, we would be justified in rebelling, just as we were against Charles I.

So what are the British people, and particularly the youth who have most to lose, doing about it? They have not even noticed. They are too busy having fun, watching reality TV, reading the gutter press, getting pissed, and, like half wits, pretending they are all celebrities.

No comments: