Barely twelve months ago, the nation was embracing the Olympic Games and Team GB’s success. We cheered as British competitors including Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah, a Somali refugee, and Jessica Ennis, the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant, struck Gold; as proud of our diversity as we were of our sporting success. What a difference a year makes. As preparations are made to dismantle the Olympic Stadium’s floodlights and roof, the Home Office dispatches anti-immigrant vans to London’s multi-ethnic boroughs – warning those living illegally to “Go home or face arrest”.
“It is the charter of the little man to the British courts of justice. It is a Bill which will open the doors of the courts freely to all persons who may wish to avail themselves of British justice without regard to the question of their wealth or ability to pay.” So said former Attorney General Sir Hartley Shawcross, introducing the Legal Aid and Advice Bill more than six decades ago.
Another month, another life torn apart by our rotten extradition rules. Earlier this month the Home Secretary ordered the extradition of former soldier David McIntyre to the US, despite his alleged post-traumatic stress disorder. There has been much rhetoric from politicians of all stripes on the need for extradition reform, but in reality we’ve seen little positive change so far. Worse still, we now face a proposal seeking to scrap one of the few remaining safeguards we enjoy.
In 1993 Stephen Lawrence was murdered by racists. What followed was a staggeringly incompetent police investigation. Now, twenty years on, we learn that not only were the Lawrence family tragic victims of crime and appalling policing, but they were also spied on by the very police force that was meant to be finding his killers.
Malala Yousafzai is an inspirational activist for girls’ education. She has been standing up for girls’ right to education in Pakistan since she was 11 years old, often putting her own life at risk. Then on 9th November 2012 she was shot in the head by the Taliban. Fortunately she has made a remarkable recovery and has continued her campaign work from her new home in the UK.
Bringing up our children to be morally engaged adults is surely one of our most important responsibilities. What they learn from us they’ll live out in society for decades to come – and what we fail to pass on may be lost for just as long. So it’s a huge relief to see that human rights has been retained in the National Curriculum after being threatened with removal.
By now you’ve no doubt heard the shocking revelations that the US and UK governments have been monitoring our emails and phone calls. Edward Snowden, a former technical contractor for the NSA and CIA, released classified documents exposing the NSA’s and GCHQ’s involvement in mass-surveillance programmes that apparently analyse and track global phone calls and store huge amounts of internet data under secret operations codenamed PRISM and Tempora.
In 2011, more than 100,000 people were stopped and searched in Britain under counter-terrorism laws. How many were arrested for terrorism-related offences? None. Not one. As statistics go, that’s pretty damning. Overbroad stop and search powers have proven not just blunt and ineffective, but discriminatory. Lax and ill-targeted powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act have now been significantly tightened, but there are still powers on the statute book allowing police to stop and search people without any suspicion. Under the now notorious section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, you’re far more likely to be stopped if you’re Black or Asian than if you’re White. Inevitably, such measures have seriously undermined community confidence in policing.