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Britain is About to Tear up 900 Years of Legal Independence, and No One Has Even Noticed

Britain is About to Tear up 900 Years of Legal Independence, and No One Has Even Noticed

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Today Parliament votes on extending the European Arrest Warrant scheme. Indefinitely.

I’m perplexed. Usually when we approach a significant milestone in this country we hold a national commemoration of sorts.

But alas, thanks to David Cameron’s Three-Line-Whip, and the grim tendency of today’s MPs to fall into line by putting Party before country (and self before children/grandchildren), we seriously face the prospect of Britain falling one year short of a worthy 900th anniversary next year: of the independence of the British legal system.

How can I say this?

Because we appear to be tearing up almost a millennium of hard-won legal rights, to accommodate the free movement of (at most) several hundred European criminals – or ‘alleged’ criminals.

At least, that’s how I would explain it to an alien in an elevator pitch.

As a police officer told me recently, “we wouldn’t be supporting these powers if politicians didn’t keep pushing free movement and EU expansion.”

So, before this ‘wicked’ Parliament (and I don’t use this word as enthused street-slang) fires another nail into the coffin of citizenship and justice, not just for Britons, but all European residents, let’s reiterate some highlights from times before November 2014, when British generations slowly triumphed to be the masters of their own judicial system.

To summarise, 899 years of glory. Here goes:

1215: Magna Carta: a promising start: a partnership between King John and England’s feudal baron’s to limit his powers and protect their rights.

1688/9: Bill of Rights: an Act of Parliament that restated the limits of Crown powers, established the rights of Parliament, elections, and requirements of the Crown to seek the consent of the people. The UK Bill inspired the US Bill of Rights a century later.

1772: Somersett v Stewart: a successful prevention of deportation for slave Somersett from British shores, then his release, by Judge Mansfield, who accepted Habeas Corpus (an ancient writ requiring that a person under arrest/imprisonment in Britain, must be brought before a judge).

1829: Home Secretary Robert Peel’s ‘Nine Instructions’ to police, including, foremost, the notion of ‘Policing by Consent’ and rule 7: “To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police…”

For certain, our criminal justice system, has always had frailties and controversies. We’ve had to learn the hard way with some gruelling lessons. Here’s some recent cases and lessons for reflection:

1989 and 1991: the successful appeals of convicted IRA bombers dubbed the ‘Guildford Four’ and ‘Birmingham Six’. In both cases, crucial alibi evidence was not shown to the defence and police extracted false confessions. Innocent men served fifteen years in prison, one dying in prison before his appeal.  In the Birmingham case, forensic evidence was error-ridden, mistakes then suppressed so as to not expose the chief scientist, Dr Skuse, to humiliation, and the Crown to dozens of subsequent appeals.

The awful lesson here being, that miscarriages of justice can and do happen. But it is only in a democratically accountable criminal justice system, that families, reporters, new investigators and government ministers, can more effectively mobilise to correct (but never make good) such tragic errors and corruptions.

Terrorism Act 2006: in the wake of the 7/7 bombings, Tony Blair faced his worst House of Commons defeat, over his government’s attempts to hold terror suspects without trial for up to 90 days.

So, why is it a decade later, the House of Commons is about to hand British citizens over to foreign criminal justice jurisdictions, that don’t have these protections?

2002-12: Gary McKinnon, the Scottish IT systems administrator, later diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, was indicted by the US State of Virginia (home to the CIA) of hacking into classified military files. McKinnon’s defence credibly claimed that he was searching for the cover-up of UFO activity, and free energy supplies. A decade later, following several appeals, and the shocking flaws of Labour’s own Extradition Act (2003), UK Home Secretary Teresa May halted McKinnon’s extradition on Human Rights grounds (he was deemed a high suicide risk), and insisted that if he had a case to answer, then he answer it within the UK.

Lesson:  if McKinnon had hacked sensitive computer systems within the EU Warrant area, he would have been automatically extradited to a foreign country back in 2004.

November 2010: The wife of UK businessman, Shiren Dewani is murdered on honeymoon in South Africa. Within weeks a local taxi driver is prosecuted and suspicion falls on Dewani. Eight months later the Home Secretary signed an order for Dewani’s extradition. Following appeals and a lapse in physical and mental health Dewani is finally extradited in April 2014. The case is being heard as we speak.

Lesson: South Africa is not (yet) in the EU, and although slightly time consuming, the extradition process has worked well.

August 2014: A European Arrest warrant was issued to seize the parents of five-year old Brain Tumour patient Ashya King who left the UK to access better specialised treatment for their child. The parents were temporarily jailed in Spain.

Lesson: it is written within a Treaty that the EAW should only be used for purposes of prosecution or upholding a custodial sentence. (This distinction is actually nonsensical.)But Hampshire Police supported using the Warrant for merely investigative purposes, they later suggested. It was bad enough that a UK police force possibly broke the nature of these rules in such a manner, yet European including British citizens will have absolutely no power to resist such misdirected authority from any of the EU member state police forces.

Despite the inconvenience of the judicial process, it seems to me, that the Dewani and McKinnon cases point to a domestic system that works (but undoubtedly could be improved) whereas the Aysha King case is simply terrifying from so many angles.

I’m now going to through at you a couple of interesting hypotheticals. Although some thirteen thousand EAW’s have already been issued (and there have been some horrific miscarriages recorded by Fair Trials International), let’s consider the potential of AEW systems when fully functioning.

Let’s for a moment, step into Europe in 2017 or beyond:

First, marry up the EAW with the role out of integrated surveillance technology, integrated Social media monitoring, European Criminal Intelligence Databases (at the moment only used for Serious Organised Crime), the emerging EU Public Prosecutor’s office, Flight Passenger data, and the greedy tendencies of all so-called centre left and centre right Governments to keep seeking new ways to gain revenues. Especially as they seek new ways to prop up ‘austerity’ budgets.

Now, I wouldn’t be quite so confident that my family members wouldn’t be arrested and summoned, perhaps following  a stag weekend, a football tournament, or a fracas where they were attacked and defended themselves, a drugs charge, an alleged dodgy business transaction, or allegation that the hire car was involved in a serious accident …

Second, think back to the arrest of ex-President General Pinochet of Chile in London by the Metropolitan Police at the request of Spain’s government in 1998. Spain rightly investigated Pinochet’s involvement in ordering the death of Spanish citizens during the general’s illegal takeover of Chile (1973-90). Labour’s Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was happy to oblige; Pinochet was held for eighteen months in the UK without trial. I have little sympathy for Pinochet; a barbaric dictator.

But one doesn’t have to be Nostradamus to work out the implications for ex-foreign leaders, diplomats and military types, of all ranks, or even human rights campaigners, as the EAW extends into former conflict zones, some including the Balkans, and possibly Turkey.

Future difficulties are likely to occur where British officials and NGOs have been deployed, or locations where human rights campaigners and journalists have given support to one side or another.

Dirty tricks campaigns by local police forces, authorities and the judiciary are hardly uncommon.

Alternatively, governments could become elected that wish to proactively harass British civilians in general, or specific individuals, due to wider diplomatic disagreements or political disputes. Imagine being in a scenario where we are legally obliged to arrest and send hundreds of citizens abroad, before we can unpick Treaties and legislation passed back in 2014!

Of course, police forces, like any public authority (or private enterprise, to be fair), want new, improved powers. One cannot blame them for lobbying.

But not at the expense of democracy; the ability of individual human beings to be the bosses of the agencies that enforce their national law. Any historian will tell you: one of the few good selling points of a totalitarian system, is that all-too-powerful institutions can really begin to crack down on alleged ‘criminals’.

I hope that MPs today say to David Cameron and to Lord Blair (former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who enthusiastically supports EAW) that these powers of automated human extradition are not yours to give away.

They belong to all of us. They are the very essence of this country’s DNA.

Our relatives and ancestors – indeed did those across much of Europe, America and Russia – paid the ultimate blood sacrifice to hold their national Government functions (including policing, law and order) to account.

After months of deliberation, the Eighteenth Century judge Lord Mansfield insisted that the Slave Somersett on British soil be released: “Let justice be done though the heavens fall,” he commented, hinting at the length and implications of his verdict.

Before they vote tonight, let at least some MPs be guided by the rights of their children and grandchildren to long-term liberty, rather than the rights of David Cameron to hold his head high at the next European Council.

Richard Bingley is a senior lecturer on security and International Relations. He will be joining the UKIP march today outside Parliament to oppose the European Arrest Warrant


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