The Prevention Of Terrorism Bill under discussion in the UK begins with an insightful explanatory note by the former UK Home Secretary, David Blunkett.
As a precursor to any debate on that rather delicate matter of Human Rights, Blunkett is keen to set the record straight immediately, with a direct and typically matter of fact affirmation.
“In my view the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.”
Is that so?
Among the various rights and freedoms granted under the Convention are listed the following:
The right to liberty and security – which grants that no-one may be deprived of their liberty save in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law (such as convition by a competent court) and that everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall
be decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful.
Given this apparent commitment on the part of the Home Office to observe the Convention, it is perpelxing then to read the latest reports about Palestinian refugee Mahmoud Abu Rideh.
Rideh has been held in Belmarsh and Broadmoor high security institutions since December 19, 2001 without charge or trial.
His detention is based on a Home Office opinion that he is a “suspected international terrorist ….. believed to be a risk to national security”.
This draconian state of affairs has cleary taken its toll Rideh’s mental health, who complained at a tribunal yesterday that:
“This is torture in Broadmoor. Where is democracy? He put me in here three years and I am all broken. How many years I stay like this? This is discrimination. Where is the justice?” ( quoted in The Guardian) .
Interestingly enough, that pesky Convention would agree with Rideh, and uphold his complaint with regards to the lack of justice he is experiencing.
Take Section One Article 6 for example, which states that:
In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.
Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
Furthermore, with regard to Rideh’s claims of torture, Article 3 of the Convention is short and to the point on the matter:
No-one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Still, perhaps the mandarins at the Home Office were taking solace from a generous interpretation of Section One Article 5, 1C of the Convention which allows that:
the lawful arrest or detention of a person effected for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence or when it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent his committing an offence or fleeing
after having done so;
That Rideh is indeed under suspicion seems grounds enough for his prolonged detention in the eyes of the Home Office, regardless of the costs such an approach has in terms, not only of fundamental basic rights and freedoms, but sheer common human decency.
I leave it to Lord Thomas who summed up this conundrum quite eloquently.
“Security is no justification for the breach of the fundamental principles which underpin our democratic system. No deprivation of liberty by ministerial say so, no midnight secret knock on the door, no gulags whether in Siberia or in Guantanamo.”
Lord Thomas, Liberal Democrat, former High Court judge (quoted in The Independent)