The Daily Telegraph reports
The “human rights” of foreign ex-prisoners on the run from police are being put before public safety. Detectives across the country are refusing to issue “wanted” posters for the missing criminals because they do not want to breach human rights laws. Forces said that the offenders had a right to privacy and might sue for defamation if their names and photographs were released.
These, it transpires when you read further down the article, are the chaps Charles Clarke mislaid;
In his final Commons appearance before he was sacked, Mr Clarke said that police and immigration officers were engaged in “very intensive work” to find and deport 38 serious offenders who were released from jail without being considered for deportation.
That is, they were released on licence in the normal way and the Home Office neglected to implement the trial judges’ recommendations that they be deported. The report goes on to tell us that
Police forces pointed to human rights legislation as the reason why names and photographs cannot be issued. They also said the on-the-run former prisoners were not sought as criminals, but instead as the perpetrators of immigration offences.
This is all very odd. Quite how one of these chaps would be able to seek damages for libel is beyond me, since the police would, presumably, have the perfect defence that whatever they’d said on the posters was completely true — that so-and-so had been convicted of whatever it was, sentenced to so many years, later released on licence and was now subject to administrative recall because he’d broken the terms of his licence. How does that defame anyone if it’s true?
Furthermore, as the ACPO Guidelines (pdf) make clear,
Article 8 of the Human Rights Act gives everyone the right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and correspondence, and publication of photographs could constitute a breach of this. The article does however allow the publication in accordance with law and as 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 public health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. (p 4)
Actually, to be strictly accurate, the HRA does no such thing; it just makes it easier to enforce rights that we’ve enjoyed under the European Convention on Human Rights for the last 50 years and which we would continue to enjoy were the HRA repealed, unless we also withdrew from the ECHR.
What’s happened, I think, is that the police forces have rather misread the ACPO Guidelines; these, of course, are written with suspected criminals in mind; that is, people who haven’t yet been convicted of anything. As the Guidelines say in their discussion of Releasing a ‘Wanted’ photograph,
The major consideration is whether the need to warn the public about a dangerous person outweighs the possibility of jeopardising any subsequent court hearing. Particular consideration should be given to the potential importance of identification evidence in the prosecution of the offender and the potential to undermine this, and consultation with legal staff and the CPS should be sought before any decision is made. (p 33)
They go on to say,
Practice is emerging among forces to publish photographs of wanted persons beyond those who pose a serious risk to the public, and may be considered where it is necessary to protect the life and physical well-being of the subject or of those with whom he or she may come into contact or to detect or prevent serious crime or disorder. In these cases it is necessary under the Human Rights Act to determine that publication is proportionate to the risk and/or that other more conventional methods have been exhausted.
Quite right, too. The last thing anyone wants is a prosecution to collapse because the accused can’t get a fair trial since his photo’s been plastered all over the place on wanted posters or because important eye-witness identification evidence gets ruled out because the witness can’t be sure (or the jury can’t be) that he’s identifying the defendant as the chap he saw fleeing the scene of the crime or if he only thinks that’s him because he’s seen all the wanted posters.
Under those circumstances, if the trial’s collapsed and the defendant it acquitted, then people probably would have to worry about defamation, but that can’t apply here. These warnings and qualifications apply, as I say, to people who’re completely innocent until a court says otherwise. That’s not the case with these former prisoners. And you can’t sue someone, as far as I know, for ‘infringing your human rights’; you’ve got to establish, first, that they’ve actually acted unlawfully in so doing, and that you’ve suffered some form of damage or loss as a result. That, I think, would be very difficult to establish in this case.
It’s either they’ve misunderstood or they’re trying to irritate John Reid (an entirely understandable motivation) by saying, perfectly reasonably, that these chaps are no more a threat than anyone else released on licence in the normal way and the police have got more important calls on their resources than trying to do the Immigration Service’s job for them.
Could be, of course, that this misunderstanding suits Dr Reid rather well. It’s not his fault that Charles Clarke let these chaps vanish on his watch; Dr Reid is doing all he can to find them and, as so often, finds himself frustrated in his efforts to protect us by both the the HRA, and judges who seek to uphold it when he’d rather they didn’t, thus demonstrating they ‘just don’t get it.‘
Technorati: ACPO, Wanted Posters, Human Rights Act, John Reid