Not Saussure

September 13, 2006

Lord Chancellor condemns Guantanamo — will he have a word with John Reid, please?

Filed under: civil liberties, UK, usa, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 9:11 pm

From today’s Telegraph:

In a keynote speech delivered today in Sydney, Australia, Lord Falconer said: “It is a part of the acceptance of the rule of law that the courts will be able to exercise jurisdiction over the executive.

“Otherwise the conduct of the executive is not defined and restrained by law.

“It is because of that principle that the USA, deliberately seeking to put the detainees beyond the reach of the law in Guantanamo Bay, is so shocking an affront to the principles of democracy.

“Without independent judicial control, we cannot give effect to the essential values of our society.”

And good for him. His words echo Lord Steyn’s magisterial denunciation of Guatanamo Bay: The Legal Black Hole in 2003:

Having invoked a historical perspective, I must acknowledge that, despite the Magna Carta, in harsher times England resorted to the expedient of sending prisoners beyond the reach of the rule of law. One of the charges made against Edward Hyde, the First Earl of Clarendon, in his impeachment in 1667 was that he had attempted to preclude habeas corpus by sending persons to “remote islands, garrisons, and other places, thereby to prevent them from the benefit of the law”, that is by sending persons to places where the writ of habeas corpus would not be available. In 1679 this loophole was blocked by section 11 of the Habeas Corpus Amendment Act 1679. For more than three centuries such stratagems to evade habeas corpus have been unlawful in England.

The Habeas Corpus Amendment Act, transcribed here, is subtitled ‘An act for the better securing the liberty of the subject, and for prevention of imprisonments beyond the seas.’

Great stuff, and makes you proud to be British.

But will Lord Falconer please try to explain the implications of this to Dr Reid and his lordship’s old flatmate, Tony Blair? With particular reference to house arrest and attacks on judges who just don’t get it? For heaven’s sake, Charles II’s dad had been executed only 30 years previously, and the Monarchy had been restored for 19 years; I rather think he must have been pretty sensitive about ‘severe threats’ to his government, but he didn’t try to tell parliament that ‘Sometimes we may have to modify some of our own freedoms in the short term’.

Does Blair really want part of his legacy to be that, in some ways, he had a worse record on democratic rights than a C17th monarch?

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