Category Archives: Human Rights
DOUGHTY STREET HUMAN RIGHTS BULLETIN 33 PUBLISHED 17 JUNE 2013
The Sunday Times report that the government’s most senior legal officer is to make an unprecedented appearance before Britain’s highest court to oppose a bid by a child rapist and a murderer to win the right to vote in elections.
In a case starting tomorrow, Dominic Grieve, the attorney-general, will argue in the Supreme Court that parliament, rather than Europe, should decide prisoners’ voting rights.
Grieve’s decision to fight the case in person — the first time an attorney-general has appeared in the Supreme Court since it was established in 2009 — is a clear sign of the government’s concern about the claim, the latest round of Britain’s fight with Europe over prisoners’ votes.
George McGeoch, who befriended a deaf man and then murdered him by slashing his throat, and Peter Chester, who raped and strangled his seven-year-old niece, are using European law to claim the right to vote.
Experts are concerned that, if the claim is successful, it could hamper attempts by the government to give parliament the opportunity to assert its power over prisoners’ votes.
Parliament is to vote on whether to defy a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that a blanket ban on prisoner voting has to end. MPs will be given the option of maintaining the blanket ban or introducing some voting rights.
McGeoch’s lawyers, however, plan to invoke European Union laws, which are separate from the human rights convention overseen by the Strasbourg judges.
Chester is seeking the right to vote in parliamentary and European elections. McGeoch claims he should be allowed to vote in European and Scottish parliamentary elections.
The European laws, unlike the convention, can be directly enforced by British courts without being subject to parliament. If McGeoch is successful, it could undermine the parliamentary vote and provoke fresh demands for powers to be repatriated from the EU.
Dominic Raab, the Tory MP for Esher and Walton and a former Foreign and Commonwealth Office lawyer, said: “The fact that the attorney-general is defending the case shows how serious an assault on our democracy it is.
“The EU’s backdoor attempt to dictate human rights to Britain is dangerous . . . and will strengthen calls for a wholesale renegotiation of British terms of [EU] membership. It is a battle we must win.”
McGeoch, 41, originally from Glasgow, was jailed for life in 1999 after he beat and smothered Eric Innes, a bakery worker, before slitting his throat. Since then he has held prison nurses hostage with a blade, slashed a fellow prisoner with broken glass and once escaped from custody.
Chester, from Blackpool, Lancashire, was handed a life sentence in 1978 for killing his niece at his sister’s home.
In 2009, he made an unsuccessful legal challenge to the ban on prisoner voting. In his ruling, the judge said the bid was “offensive to constitutional principles”.
However, European judges have refused to back down in the face of Britain’s defiance over votes for prisoners. Last week, Dean Spielmann, the president of the Strasbourg court, was highly critical of the British failure to implement its rulings.
“Such an attitude . . . undermines the whole system and it causes great damage to the credibility of the UK when it comes to promoting human rights in other parts of the world,” he told the BBC.
A government spokesman said: “The government has made its position on prisoner voting rights absolutely clear — we believe prisoner voting is a matter for national parliaments to decide.
“The attorney-general will strongly defend that position at the Supreme Court.”
Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners said the Supreme Court ‘should put the Goverment in its place”.
Mr Leech said: “In the same way that prison officers intervene to free a prison officeer taken hostage, so too should the Surpeme Court intervene and free the issue of prisoner voting which has been unlawfully taken hostage by successive governments.
“The UK is a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights, and Judges of the ECHR have made clear the UK should either implement judgements of the ECHR or get out of the European Court altogether.
“The Supreme Court should put the Goverment in its place and tell it to implement the judgement on prisoner voting which politicians have disgracefully ignored now for eight years.”
One of jailed the Russian punk group Pussy Riot is entering the second week of a hunger strike to protest over what she says is a persecution campaign against her.
In a letter published by her lawyers, Maria Alekhina (right above) said that prison officials were attempting to turn fellow inmates against her by enacting a security crackdown and denying them medical care.
Alekhina went on hunger strike last Wednesday after she was barred from attending her own parole hearing, which denied her release.
Alekhina earlier spent five months in solitary confinement after claiming that officials deliberately lodged her with hardened criminals, encouraging them to intimidate her.
A Moscow court jailed Alekhina and two band mates last year for an impromptu punk protest in Moscow’s main cathedral.
By Andrew Sperling, Chair of Association of Prison Lawyers
Legal aid for prisoners is under attack again and this time it may be terminal. The government’s proposals in a Consultation Paper called ‘Transforming Legal Aid’ are to remove legal aid for prisoners altogether except for parole, disciplinary hearings where additional days may be awarded or where the Governor allows representation and a limited range of sentence cases. They also aim to end prison law as a separate, specialist legal aid contract so that it can only be carried out by those firms with a criminal contract. The number of firms awarded criminal contracts will be reduced enormously so there will be very little – if any choice – of representative. The final nail in the coffin is a further reduction in fees meaning that it will be difficult for experienced lawyers to carry on with this work.
It is clear that these proposals will destroy prison law work and that the vast majority of prisoners will be left without good quality legal representation in the future. It will also mean that more and more unlawful decisions will go unchallenged. These plans are opposed by virtually everyone who understands how the criminal justice system works.
The Association of Prison Lawyers (APL) has many members –some very experienced and some new to this area – but all are united in trying to ensure that prisoners have access to high quality legal advice. Along with other organisations like the Prisoners Advice Service and the Howard League, who provide support and advice to prisoners, we are lobbying politicians, the Ministry of Justice, judges, the Parole Board, the Ombudsman, the Prisons Inspectorate, the Independent Monitoring Board and the media. We are also holding events for prison lawyers to talk about the proposals and what they might mean. We will do whatever we can to persuade anyone who may have influence to bear.
Ultimately, the real victims of this will be prisoners and their families. Your experiences and your voices must also be heard. You and your families can write to MPs and to your own lawyers. You can also respond directly to the consultation by writing to Annette Cowell, Ministry of Justice, 102 Petty France, London, SW1H 9AJ by 4th June 2013.
You can contact APL c/o Office 7, 19 Greenwood Place, London NW5 1LB.
The website address is www.associationofprisonlawyers.co.uk.
The Home Secretary has pinned her hopes for ousting Abu Qatada from Britain on a fresh deal with the Jordanians – but warned it could still take many months to deport the reviled hate preacher.
Theresa May said a new treaty between the UK and Jordan guarantees that torture evidence will not be used against the terror suspect if he is returned to the Middle Eastern country.
But sounding a note of caution, Mrs May said the agreement does not mean Qatada will be “on a plane to Jordan within days” as he will still be able to appeal against any fresh decisions to deport him.
The Labour Party said the move took the legal process back to “square one”, while a leading human rights barrister accused the Home Secretary of “wasting taxpayers’ money”.
The so-called “mutual legal assistance agreement” includes fair trial guarantees, the Home Secretary said, which would apply to anyone being deported from either the UK or Jordan.
“I believe these guarantees will provide the courts with the assurance that Qatada will not face evidence that might have been obtained by torture in a retrial in Jordan, ” she told the House of Commons.
Before the deal can come into force, and become a formal treaty, it must be ratified by both countries.
Mrs May went on: “I believe that the treaty we have agreed with Jordan – once ratified by both parliaments – will finally make possible the deportation of Abu Qatada.
“But as I have warned the House before, even when the treaty is fully ratified, it will not mean that Qatada will be on a plane to Jordan within days. We will be able to issue a new deportation decision, but Qatada will still have legal appeals available to him, and it will therefore be up to the courts to make the final decision. That legal process may well still take many months, but in the meantime I believe Qatada should remain behind bars.”
On Tuesday, the Government suffered another blow in its long-running battle to boot Qatada out of the country when the Court of Appeal refused it permission to take the fight to the Supreme Court. The Home Secretary said the Government would now request permission to appeal directly from the Supreme Court.
Downing Street is considering a temporary withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights in order to allow hate preacher Abu Qatada to be expelled from the United Kingdom, it emerged today.
Asked whether this course of action was on the table, Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman told reporters: “We are going to explore every option.”
Home Secretary Theresa May will update MPs on the Government’s plans in a statement in the House of Commons later today, following the latest setback in the long-running battle to deport the cleric, once seen as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe.
The Home Office is planning to apply directly to the Supreme Court for permission to challenge a Court of Appeal ruling that Qatada cannot be deported to Jordan over fears that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him.
The Appeal Court yesterday refused permission for Mrs May to challenge its March ruling at the Supreme Court, forcing the Home Secretary to take her case direct to the highest court in the land.
Mr Cameron immediately summoned Mrs May, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and Attorney General Dominic Grieve to what was described as a “council of war” to discuss all available options for removing Qatada.
A Number 10 source said following the meeting that the appeal process had to be gone through but the Prime Minister wanted to explore all ways to “get him out of the country” if it failed.
Asked at a daily Westminster media briefing today whether this included the possibility of a temporary withdrawal from the ECHR, Mr Cameron’s spokesman said: “I am not going to get into specifics on the details of what the Government is considering, but we are going to explore every option.”
The Home Office said it was “disappointed” with the Court of Appeal’s decision, but added: “The Government remains committed to deporting this dangerous man and we continue to work with the Jordanians to address the outstanding legal issues preventing deportation.”
The Supreme Court process involves consideration by three justices of a permission to appeal application. They decide whether the application raises a point of law of general public importance.
At the Court of Appeal last month, Mrs May’s lawyers challenged a ruling made in November by immigration judges on the grounds that Qatada was a “truly dangerous” individual who had escaped deportation through “errors of law”.
But three appeal judges said the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) was entitled to conclude that disputed statements will be used against Qatada.
Qatada, who featured in hate sermons found on videos in the flat of one of the 9/11 bombers, has thwarted every attempt by the Government to put him on a plane.
A resident in the UK since September 1993, he was returned to jail last month after he was arrested for alleged bail breaches.
Police searched Qatada’s family home in London before he was held and have since said that he is being investigated over extremist material.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said after the decision was announced: “A year ago, Theresa May promised Abu Qatada would soon be on a plane. Now it is clear her legal strategy has completely failed. The Home Secretary must tell us urgently what she is going to do now to get Abu Qatada deported or tried, and keep him off our streets.”
The mother of a young man found hanged in his cell in Buckinghamshire has told an inquest that she was worried he would not be able to cope with being locked up.
Billy Spiller, 21, who was serving a three-and-a-half year sentence at a young offenders’ institution, had a history of self harming and had been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a teenager, Buckinghamshire Coroner’s Court in Beaconsfield was told.
His mother Dawn said he started to injure himself from the age of nine and would sit on railway tracks near their home or drink white spirit when upset.
He left school at the age of 15 due to his difficult behaviour and went to work as a roofer with his father, Nick, but that came to an end when he jumped from scaffolding onto the roof of a double decker bus “for no reason”, Mrs Spiller said.
It appeared Spiller, who was 6ft 6in tall, sometimes lacked “an appreciation of danger”, Buckinghamshire Coroner Richard Hulett noted.
Spiller was given a three-and-a-half year sentence for his crime, details of which have not been revealed to the inquest, in December 2009, and had been in custody since July 2008. He entered Aylesbury Young Offenders’ Institution (YOI) in July 2010.
Mrs Spiller said: “I was very worried about Billy being in prison. I was worried they wouldn’t be able to cope with him.”
She had been allowed to sit with Billy, who was prescribed medication for his conditions, in police cells and in court.
“I knew he would not cope with being locked up and that’s why I was so worried,” she added.
Mrs Spiller described her son as “very impulsive” young man.
“He was so determined and headstrong,” she said. “Billy was like a tornado. He was always on the go.”
He would repeatedly kick and punch the walls of his cell at Aylesbury YOI and on the morning of his death was frustrated at not having enough money to call his girlfriend, the inquest heard.
When a prison warder checked on him at 1pm on November 5, 2011, Spiller said he was feeling better, after being allowed to make the phone call.
However, when the same warder looked in on Spiller’s cell through an observation window just over an hour later, she saw him hanging and immediately called over another prisoner to help bring him down.
Spiller was rushed to hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. A pathologist gave the cause of death as suspension.
Just over half of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are on hunger strike, the US military confirmed.
A spokesman said 84 prisoners have been classified as hunger strikers out of the 166-strong population at the base in Cuba.
Army Lt Col Samuel House said 16 of the 84 prisoners are being force-fed and five have been taken to hospital. None are in a life-threatening condition.
About a week after a clash between guards and prisoners, the hunger strike is steadily growing. On Tuesday, the number of hunger strikers was 45. By Friday, 63 prisoners had joined.
Prisoners have been on a hunger strike since early February to protest against conditions and their indefinite confinement.
The US holds 166 men at the prison, most without charge.
Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said the continued detention without charge of these people was an affront to justice.
“It simply cannot continue, I recognise there is no easy answer to what you do with these people, but leaving them to rot in jail because we cannot come up with a solution is an affront to justice.
“Nine eleven was almost 12 years ago, in the UK they’ve all served the best part of a sentence lasting a quarter of a century – they are all someone’s loved one, we owe justice to the families as well as to the detainees.”
Members of a committee to consider legislation on prisoner voting should not be elected, the Leader of the House of Commons said today.
Andrew Lansley said the joint committee to consider a draft Bill on prisoner voting needed to be carefully balanced to include critics as well as supporters.
The draft Bill must provide various options in the wake of a European Court of Human Rights ruling that it was unlawful to deny inmates the vote.
Debating an amendment to his own draft Bill on prisoner voting, Mr Lansley said: “There are strong arguments of principle and of practicality against such a move (voting for the members of the committee).
“As a matter of principle, joint pre-legislative committees need to be carefully balanced to ensure that they properly reflect all shades of interest and opinion across both Houses of Parliament.
“To ensure scrutiny is rigorous this means including critics of the legislation as well as supporters.
“With the best will in the world the process of election is unlikely to achieve this balance.
“A majority of the House have a prior view on a particular piece of legislation.
“This view is likely then to be reflected in the composition of any committee appointed in elections.”
Angela Eagle supported the motion and opposed the amendment, describing the draft Bill as a “highly contentious” piece of legislation.
“I believe it’s also right in this instance that the membership of this joint committee should be decided in the usual way via the committee of selection.”
Tory Christopher Chope (Christchurch) spoke in favour of his amendment that the membership of the Committee be nominated by the Committee of Selection following elections within the parties using “whatever democratic and transparent method they choose”.
He suggested this was a unique situation, adding: “It would be much better for the executive to have kept their hands well out of all this.”
He added: “I don’t accept the principle put forward by the Leader of House that it is impossible to have a properly balanced joint committee if it is elected, I would suggest quite the reverse that if a committee is elected the people who are serving on that committee are accountable to the people who elected them.”
The amendment was not pushed to a vote and the motion was agreed unopposed.
Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said the issue of prisoner voting brought into focus the sharp distinction between political reality and rhetoric.
Mr Leech said: “Politicians of every colour continually tell us they want to reduce reoffending, they want to help those in prison to lead law-abiding lives both in custody and after release, in fact there is a large notice to that exact effect pinned to the front gate of every prison in the country.
“And yet, when you try and see the translation of that theory into practice it falls at the first hurdle by refusing prisoners the ability to vote, excluding them from society, refusing to follow the judgment of the highest human rights court in Europe, a court the UK has signed up to and in which we played a central part in creating – criminal justice policies on rehabilitation are, sadly, shown to be nothing more than a sham.”
Campaigners gathered outside the United States Embassy in London today in support of a US soldier arrested over the leaking of classified documents to whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
The protest was organised to mark Private Bradley Manning’s 1,000th day in prison without trial.
He was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq on suspicion of having passed classified material to WikiLeaks, whose founder Julian Assange has sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
A court martial is set to be held in June at Ford Meade in Maryland, with supporters treating him as a hero, but opponents describing him as a traitor.
A series of protests and demonstrations took place today across the United States and Europe, including London, Yorkshire and Cardiff.
Ciaron O’Reilly, 52, attended the event with the London Catholic Worker group, one of a number of organisations to participate.
He said: “I think the persecution of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange are the anti-war show trials of our generation.
“These people risked their lives and liberty to expose the truth about the wars (in Afghanistan and Iraq).
“It’s like a slow motion crucifixion.
“For me as an anti-war activist this is about free speech, free expression and free internet.
“Sending young men and women to Afghanistan and Iraq needs as much public examination as you can get but the Government is committed to keeping us in the dark.”
Paul Davis, 25, a stuntman from Surrey, also attended with his friends.
He said: “Whistleblowers should not be persecuted for exposing the crimes of their governments and armies.
“Whistleblowers has become a by-word for victims and martyrs.
“They should instead be praised for exposing the crimes. This is a heavy persecution of one individual.”
About 30 people were outside the embassy at around 4pm when the protest ended.
After repeated shouts of “Free Bradley Manning”, some campaigners moved on to the Ecuadorian Embassy to support Mr Assange.
Mr Assange has been in the Ecuadorian Embassy since last June, after suddenly arriving there as part of his campaign to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sex offences – which he denies.
He fears being sent to the United States if he travels to Sweden.
New York civil rights lawyer Chase Madar has written a book about Bradley Manning, raising a number of issues including the soldier’s solitary confinement for 11 months after his arrest.
Mr Madar told the Press Association that he believed that Manning was a “tragic hero”.
He has written to the soldier, and sent him a copy of the book, but has never received any replies, possibly on the advice of Manning’s lawyer.
The author said most people in the United States did not know who Bradley Manning was, and only a minority would regard him as a national hero.
“There is still a perception that the US is at risk from military leaks – but I believe what he did was a good thing, both for the United States and for the rest of the world.
“The documents leaked represented less than 1% of what Washington classified in the whole of 2011.”
The Passion Of Bradley Manning, is published by Verso on May 9.