Populist paranoia punctured

In many ways, the attack on the European Convention on Human Rights, led by Theresa May and Chris Grayling, is more worrying than the various attacks on the EU.  Dismissing  Dominic Grieve, as attorney general, because he defended the Convention, was a serious step to take.  It should have received more critical attention. When the justice system can be used to get rid of people you simply don’t like the look of, you are on a slippery slope.  

The case of Abu Qatada is a very significant example of where prejudice nearly succeeded in derailing justice.  This so-called radical cleric was granted asylum in the UK in 1994.  Very soon his preaching/ranting attracted the attention of the security services.  From 2003 he was repeatedly imprisoned and put under house arrest though he was never charged, never prosecuted.  This was extraordinary, since Mr Justice Collins, chairman of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, in rejecting Abu Qatada’s appeal against detention without charge or trial in 2004 said that he was “heavily involved, indeed was at the centre in the UK of terrorist activities associated with Al Qaeda.  He is a truly dangerous individual.”  What sort of evidence did he have to say that?  He said nothing about Article 9 of the Convention - Freedom of thought, conscience and religion, nothing about Article 10 - Freedom of expression, and nothing about Article 11 - Freedom of assembly and association.

In July 2013, Abu Qatada was eventually deported to Jordan after a treaty signed with the UK, specifying that evidence obtained by torture would not be used in his trial.  Article 3 of the Convention had been satisfied.  The Telegraph reckoned that £3m had been spent on the case by then.

The denouement is instructive.  A civilian court in Jordan has now pronounced Abu Qatada innocent of all the charges brought against him.  That will not exonerate him across swathes of English public opinion and the press, and the Home Office would only say that the law had taken its course. No one seems to have hailed this episode as the triumph it is for the Convention on Human Rights.  Where would Abu Qatada be if he had been deported earlier as Theresa May wanted?

The problem with security services, armament companies and even sometimes with members of the armed services, is that it is in their interest to exaggerate scares.  No doubt also these organisations attract paranoid individuals who really do see “reds under the bed” or whoever is the current bogeyman.  There are plenty of people ready to believe what they hear from these people and history is littered with examples of governments over-reacting.  Moreover, gun-boat diplomacy and the “big stick” are more popular with the press and public than quiet diplomacy.  What chance has the European Convention when a government wants votes and plays to public prejudice?


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