The right not to face inhuman treatment or torture is one of the few absolute freedoms – it can never be justified and there are no exceptions, even during conflicts or the fight against terrorism. This precious value was first recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and torture has long been forbidden under British law. The UK is also a signatory of the UN Convention Against Torture.
Last year was my very first Liberty AGM and Members’ Conference and I left the day feeling incredibly inspired and proud to be a member of such an amazing organisation. I was initially a little apprehensive about how things would go in the new venue, and whether the sudden heatwave would affect the turnout, but I needn’t have worried – the day was a fantastic success with our highest attendance yet.
“Denial of legal protection to the poor litigant who cannot afford to pay is one enemy of the rule of law”. So said the late, great Lord Bingham; writing in 2011. Who knows what the former Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice and senior law lord would make of the savage cuts to legal aid which came into force yesterday via the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. In one fell swoop the Government has placed access to justice firmly beyond many who need it most.
Last night was a dark moment for British justice as odious Government plans for Secret Courts moved to the brink of becoming law. The House of Lords voted against introducing safeguards to the Justice and Security Bill ensuring that so-called Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) were used only as a last resort. The margin was tight, but nevertheless the legislation was passed in its entirety and now heads for Royal Assent and the statute book in all of its foul, shadowy glory. Not only are Secret Courts infesting our civil law system – minor restrictions making them slightly less deplorable have also been dismissed.
Yesterday evening was a disappointing one for all campaigners for fairer extradition laws. Late into the night, with little fanfare, proposed Coalition changes with serious implications for rights and freedoms crept their way through the House of Lords.
Dozens of people have been killed and many more injured in a series of car bomb attacks in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. It is a devastating way to mark today – the tenth anniversary of the US-UK led invasion. With the passing of a decade comes yet more bloodshed.
The principled backlash against the Justice and Security Bill continues with yet more high-profile resignations from the Liberal Democrats over their leadership’s support for Secret Courts. International law professor and barrister at Matrix Chambers Philippe Sands QC and popular blogger and journalist Cory Doctorow are the latest to stand up for open justice by quitting the party over its backing for the legislation.
Politics can be disillusioning and those involved are frequently characterised as amoral, power-hungry and self-interested. Last weekend should serve to remind us that the reality can sometimes be much more noble.