Erosion to the rule of law

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As another week has passed, the Save UK Justice e-petition has now exceeded 61,000 signatures. An increase of well over 11,000 since the same time last week. Now only 39,000 signatures away from sparking a parliamentary debate. The momentum continues to grow and pick up pace which is encouraging as the petition is growing in numbers faster than ever.

The protest went ahead on Wednesday as planned. Hundreds of lawyers stood in front of a coffin marked ‘RIP Legal Aid’ to demonstrate against the proposed cuts. Unfortunately the event was overshadowed by events in Woolwich on the same day. Tragic events which have been placed under the label of ‘terrorism’.

Ironically the term terrorism is a concept which can be linked to the cuts in legal aid. As previously discussed the cuts in legal aid are effectively an erosion of the rule of law. Terrorism is often used as a guise by the government in order to further erode the rule of law, which is where the link between the two can be made.

The numerous pieces of legislation which have been made relating to terrorism; provisions to indefinitely detain, provisions to intercept and monitor, provisions relating to closed court hearings. The list goes on. All of these provisions are contrary to the rule of law. The rule of law requires basic fundamental freedoms dating back to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 to be upheld. It requires many liberties, often taken for granted, to be upheld. Many of these liberties have been enshrined in law by way of the Human Rights Act 1998 which was a result of the European Convention on Human Rights. The following is a non-exhaustive list of many of the rights in which this government at times almost seem oblivious to:

Article 2: The right to life

Article 3: The prohibition of torture

Article 4: Prohibition of slavery and forced labour

Article 5: Right to liberty and security

Article 6: Right to a fair trial

Article 7: No punishment without law

Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life

Article 9: Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

Article 10: Freedom of expression

Article 11: Freedom of assembly and association

One must be reminded however, that the following statement (or one to a similar effect) applies to many of the rights above: “There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health and morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedom of others.”

It can therefore be argued that the response to terrorism by way of the provisions discussed above, are lawful and reasonably proportionate in respect of the threat in which we are faced with.

Let’s take one of the Articles to look at more in depth, Article 3. The prohibition of torture. This is supposed to be an absolute right, one which cannot be taken away under any circumstance. It is common knowledge that our counterparts in the US have infringed this right at Guantanamo Bay for instance. Although we have no analogous situation here, the UK has time and time again been accused of being implicit in the US torture regime and certainly has a level of ambivalence towards it. A regime which the US justifies in the interests of national security and to prevent terrorism. Perhaps one should remind the US and the UK just for good measure of the following:

  • The British Bill of Rights 1689 provides that ‘cruel and unusual punishments’ shall not be inflicted, a provision copied into the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1791.
  • Both countries are parties to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, common article 3 of which prohibits violence to life and person, murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment, torture, outrages upon personal dignity, and humiliating and degrading treatment.
  • Both countries are parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, which in article 7 provides that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • Both countries are parties to the UN Convention Against Torture, which requires all states to prevent torture in any territory under their jurisdiction, provides that no exceptional circumstances whatever may be invoked as a justification and requires that acts of torture be treated as criminal.

 

The above can all be said to have been violated at one point or another. This goes to show that the rule of law is being eroded. Where does it stop? The midnight knock on the door? The sudden disappearance? The show trial? The subjection of prisoners to genetic experiment? The concentration camp? The gas chamber?

 

Urban Lawyers aim is to raise awareness not indoctrinate or oppress any views. The above article is intended to provoke healthy thought and discussion on a topic which is central to society as we know it.

 

Dale Timson

LLB (Honours) Student & Aspiring Barrister

27/05/2013

Picture courtesy of http://www.thetimes.co.uk

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One thought on “Erosion to the rule of law

  1. Pingback: | Lord Chancellor, fit for purpose?

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