Remember, remember the 5th of November.…

Annie_on_Conviction_DayNovem­ber 5th has long had many levels of res­on­ance for me: Bon­fire Night of course, when I was a child — fire­works in the garden and burnt baked pota­toes from the fire; since the age of sev­en, cel­eb­rat­ing the birth­day of my old­est friend; and, since 2002, the memory of hav­ing to stand up in the wit­ness stand in an Old Bailey court room in Lon­don to give a mit­ig­a­tion plea at the tri­al of my former part­ner, see­ing his sen­tence reduced from the expec­ted thir­teen months to a “mere” six, and then hav­ing to deal for weeks with the media fall-out.  A strange mix of memor­ies.

Dav­id Shayler endured a “Kafkaesque tri­al” in 2002 in the sense that he was not allowed to make a defence due to gov­ern­ment-imposed gag­ging orders, des­pite all the rel­ev­ant mater­i­al already hav­ing been widely pubished in the media.  The issues were summed up well in this New States­man art­icle from that time. 

But the cur­rent debate about con­trol orders used against so-called ter­ror­ist sus­pects — my emphas­is — adds a whole new dimen­sion to the notori­ous phrase.

This recent, excel­lent art­icle in The Guard­i­an by law­yer Mat­thew Ryder about con­trol orders sums it up.  How can you defend a cli­ent if you are not even allowed access to the inform­a­tion that has led to the ori­gin­al accus­a­tion?

The Lib­er­al Demo­crats, in the run-up to the Gen­er­al Elec­tion earli­er this year, pledged to do away with con­trol orders, as they are an affront to the Brit­ish mod­el of justice.  How­ever, MI5 is put­ting up a strong defence for their reten­tion, but then they would, wouldn’t they? 

Much of the “secret” evid­ence that leads to a con­trol order appears to come from tele­phone inter­cept, but why on earth can this evid­ence not be revealed in a court of law?  It’s not like the notion of tele­phone bug­ging is a state secret these days, as I argued in The Guard­i­an way back in 2005.

BirmsixBear­ing all of the above in mind, do have a read of this inter­view with Paddy Hill, one of the vic­tims of the notori­ous wrong­ful con­vic­tions for the IRA Birm­ing­ham pub bomb­ings in 1974.  After being arres­ted, threatened, tor­tured and trau­mat­ised, he was forced to con­fess to a ter­rible crime he had not com­mit­ted. 

As a res­ult, he had to endure six­teen years in pris­on before his inno­cence was con­firmed.  He is still suf­fer­ing the con­sequences, des­pite hav­ing found the strength to set up the “Mis­car­riages of Justice Organ­isa­tion” to help oth­er vic­tims.

And then have a think about wheth­er we should blindly trust the word of the secur­ity forces and the police when they state that we have to give away yet more of our hard-won freedoms and rights in the name of the ever-shift­ing, ever-neb­u­lous “war on ter­ror”. 

Do we really need to hold ter­ror­ist sus­pects in police cells for 28 days without charge?  Will we really con­tin­ue to allow the head of MI6 to get away with blithely assert­ing, unchal­lenged, that Brit­ish intel­li­gence does its very best not to “bene­fit” from inform­a­tion extrac­ted via unthink­able tor­ture, as former UK ambas­sad­or Craig Mur­ray so graph­ic­ally described in his blog on 29th Octo­ber?

I’ve said it before, and I shall say it again: the Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights was put in place for a reas­on in 1948.  Let’s all draw a breath, and remem­ber, remem­ber.….

 

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