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News Round-Up Week Ending 14.11.14

(Posted on 14/11/14)

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News Round-Up Week Ending 14.11.14

Secret’s Out!

"I really passionately believe in open justice. Justice that is not open is not good justice."

With the jury dismissed from Erol Incedal’s secret trial at the Old Bailey, the Lord Chief Justice has said it should never happen again.

"We need to get the ground rules straight,” Lord Thomas said. “What we don't want, in my view, is a situation where you have anonymous defendants and that the matter has to come to the Court of Appeal to resolve it. The prospect of an anonymous defendant is one that I hope we would never, ever see again in our courts.”

The only reason given for the secrecy was the suggestion that the prosecution would be dropped should the full allegations become public. Incedal now faces a retrial under the same conditions of secrecy.

Extra Time for EAW

On Monday the government controversially decided against taking a vote on whether to re-adopt the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). John Bercow called it a “sorry saga”.

“The House should not be put in that position,” the Speaker said. “A commitment is a commitment to be honoured, rather than trying to slip things through some sort of artifice.”

Sadly, the issue has become one of Euroscepticism rather than justice. Writing in the Guardian prior to the vote that never was, Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti attempted to remind us that the problem with the EAW is the potential for unfair, summary extradition, as with Andrew Symeou and Gary Mann.

“Among the protections we have sought is a requirement that a basic or prima facie case be made in a domestic court before a British resident is extradited. We are not alone in calling for change: earlier this year the European parliament adopted a resolution setting out essential reforms to the EAW.

“To give the government its due, it has inserted two safeguards into domestic law on extraditions within the EU. Liberty welcomed these measures, which are aimed at preventing disproportionate extraditions and the lengthy pre-trial detention of British residents. These are important protections, but they are unilateral changes not necessarily reflected in the EAW system. What is more, the government has given with one hand and taken away with the other by introducing legislation scrapping the automatic right of appeal against extradition to countries in the EU.”

The Opposition, which supports the EAW, is now expected to force a vote on Thursday (19th November), ostensibly to avoid legal challenges, but effectively taking the game of political football into extra time with the wrong ball.

Don’t Hold Onto Your Ihat

The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) is investigating possible war crimes by British soldiers in Iraq. Slowly. 

The Independent on Sunday has calculated that, in spite of a 50% budget increase, it will take nearly half a century for the understaffed team to complete the cases on its books, including eighteen years of interviews.

Since its creation by the Ministry of Defence, Ihat has completed four investigations into allegations of unlawful death and four into allegations of mistreatment in four years. It has 53 allegations of unlawful deaths and 95 of mistreatment still to consider.

“The enormity of our task is unique, but a calculation based on the number of cases completed so far is inaccurate and misleading,” an Ihat spokesperson said. “It is important to highlight that these are criminal investigations and we are committed to conducting them professionally and effectively.”

 “The Ihat process needs to significantly up its game if it is to come close to meeting the UK's obligations,” suggested Carla Ferstman of the human rights charity Redress. “It seems extraordinary that the involvement of the ICC [International Criminal Court], even at a preliminary stage, has not galvanised the Government to urgently investigate and prosecute where there is evidence of criminality."

As yet no-one has been charged. 

The Book of Numbers

The Ministry of Justice’s November 2013 ban on sending prisoners books continues yet a concession has at least been made over the number of books allowed in cells.

“Given the particularly important role books can play in rehabilitation, with immediate effect, governors may exercise a discretion to allow prisoners to have more than 12 books in possession,” a National Offender Management Service policy update states. “This amendment applies to books only.”

“Petty and counter-productive restrictions on sending books and other essentials to prisoners remain in place,” Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform writes on Politics.co.uk. “And calls for the Ministry of Justice to fully reverse its policy are only getting louder against a backdrop of ever more overcrowding, growing unrest and an alarming rise in the number of suicides behind bars.”

“Lifting this restriction is a positive step, but it does nothing to solve the underlying problem: how do prisoners get the books in the first place?” adds Jo Glanville of English PEN. “Access to prison libraries remains extremely limited, and the ban on family sending books directly to inmates is still in force. The Ministry of Justice must urgently rethink its Incentives and Earned Privileges policy.”

The MoJ declined to comment immediately.

Dying With Dignity

Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA), has said a change in the law, to allow terminally ill people to be helped to end their lives, will happen in the next couple of years. This follows a unanimous vote in the House of Lords to accept an amendment to the assisted dying bill, tabled by Lord Pannick and supported by Lord Falconer.

“No change is not an option,” Dr Chand told the Observer. “The present law definitely needs changing. It discriminates and is very bad law. We currently have a two-tier system – one for the people who have the resources and money to go to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland and another for the majority of people who don’t have the resources or money.”

“We have moved a significant step closer to a change in the law,” said Sarah Wootton of Dignity in Dying. “Reacting to pressure from the public and the courts, the House of Lords have accepted the principle of change and identified a uniquely British model of providing both greater choice and greater protection at the end of life.”

Bloody Sunday Goes On

Relatives of civil rights marchers killed in 1972 have lodged a legal challenge to the decision by Northern Ireland's chief constable George Hamilton to scale back the murder investigation. 

“We have today lodged judicial review proceedings challenging the decision by the chief constable to effectively end this multiple murder investigation,” said solicitor Peter Madden, representing most of the families of the thirteen dead. “The chief constable's decision to end this murder enquiry was made on the eve of the commencement of the process where the soldiers were to be interviewed under caution.

“Less than six months ago the PSNI talked of its ‘statutory duty to investigate fully all matters of serious crime, including murder’, in its pursuit of the Boston College tapes. It appears that this statutory duty does not extend to murders committed by the British Army.”

Snoop Dog Eat Dog

The intelligence services have routinely been intercepting and exploiting legally privileged communications between lawyers and their clients in sensitive security cases, resulting in miscarriages of justice, according to lawyers acting for two Libyans.

Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami Al Saadi, abducted by MI6 and the CIA in 2004 and sent back to Libya to face torture by Gaddafi’s regime, brought the claim to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT).

“There’s a real risk, if these matters are not fully explored, that confidence in our justice system could be undermined,” Dinah Rose, QC for Belhaj, told the tribunal. “This case is the tip of the iceberg. It raises questions about a large number of cases and about the integrity of judgments reached by courts in civil and criminal cases. We have a situation where the policies, on the face of it, appear to permit lawyers to be involved in practices that are unlawful and unethical.”

“We now know that the government sees nothing wrong in routinely spying on the confidential communication between lawyers and clients,” Rachel Logan of Amnesty UK said. “This clearly violates an age-old principle of English law: that the correspondence between a person and their lawyer is confidential. It could mean, amazingly, that the government uses information they have got from snooping on you, against you, in a case you have brought.”

 “We do not comment on ongoing legal proceedings,” the government offered.