Posted by: the watchmen | March 30, 2009

Terrorism / Human Rights.Blood Brothers.

Monday, 30th March 2009

Which side is McWilliams on?

By Alex Kane

I have never liked Monica McWilliams. She was insufferably holier-than-thou and utterly superfluous to political requirements as leader of the Women’s Coalition.
She was insufferably pompous and I-know-better-than-the-rest-of-you as an MLA. And now, as chief commissioner of the why-do-we-actually-need-it Human Rights Commission, she is just insufferable.

Let’s be quite clear about this. Terror suspects can

be detained for up to 28 days without being formally charged. But after 48 hours the police are required to make an application to a judge for the suspect to be held for another five days. And after that, further applications must be made for seven-day extensions.

That seems to me to be fair. Indeed, I think it errs on the side of caution. The judges will require evidence or information from the police to persuade them to extend the periods of detention, so it’s not as if the police actually have a huge array of unchecked, unaccountable powers available to them.

Northern Ireland has endured 30-odd years of terrorism and there are groups who want to kick-start it all again. So the very last thing we need is for a professional busybody like McWilliams to give the impression that she is taking sides: and that’s exactly the impression she is giving. Or, as she put it last week, “the whole point about human rights is that you are tested when you are defending the human rights of people you may not agree with”.

But what I don’t understand is why she had to get so publicly involved in this in the first place. I don’t give a damn about the so-called conditions in which these people are held. Ok, they are clearly not five-star hotel standards, but why should they be? Holding cells and interrogation suites are not intended to be judged on their comfort.

My impression is that the police do not detain and question people just for the fun of it. If they believe that they have enough evidence and can then persuade a judge that it is worth holding onto a suspect for up to a month, then let them get on with it.

Of course mistakes will be made. There is no such thing – anywhere in the world – as a perfect judicial system. But one of the reasons that miscarriages of justice in the UK receive so much headline coverage is precisely because they are so few and far between.

We are obsessed with the human rights of terrorists and assorted criminals. There is a whole legal industry dedicated to searching for loopholes and get-out clauses. And given the sheer volume of legislation it’s no wonder that ambiguity exists and that it’s because of that ambiguity, interpretation and nuance that so many suspects are allowed to walk free. Indeed, there are considerable numbers of terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland, from both sides of the divide, who were able to retain their freedom thanks to a legal technicality.

But where is the ambiguity when it comes to Constable Stephen Carroll? There are no loopholes, or technicalities, or get-out clauses, or teams of lawyers for him. Constable Carroll is dead. So, too, are Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey.

All three killed by terrorists who will, if they are taken in for questioning by the police, have a legal team trawling through national and international law in search of the loophole or inconsistency that will see them free

Last Wednesday a

number of suspects were released: and released because the UK’s Terrorism Act 2006 (under which they were being held) had to be read in conformity with European Convention on Human Rights requirements. Already the lawyers are telling us that “it’s a seminal judgment (with) far-reaching implications for the conduct of serious police investigations throughout the UK. The judgment now makes it very clear that police still need to show reasonable suspicion to justify the arrest and continued detention of persons under the Terrorism Act.”

Terrorism thrives on legal ambiguity and terrorists know how to use the legal system to their own advantage. The nature of their activities means that unless they are caught red-handed (and quite literally so) it can be enormously difficult to make a case against them. They are protected by elements within their own community, who are prepared to provide alibis and cover stories. Witnesses are usually afraid to come forward. The terrorists themselves have usually been trained to withstand interrogation techniques. Meanwhile, they know that teams of lawyers are toiling away to deliver the get-out-of-jail-free card.

Wednesday’s ruling from the panel headed by Lord Chief Justice Sir Brian Kerr was, in my opinion, a very serious blow to the UK’s efforts to tackle, infiltrate and break apart terrorist networks.

As I said earlier, it’s the very nature and structure of the terrorist groups themselves which makes it so hard for the police and intelligence forces to pin the tail on the donkey as quickly as they would like. And that’s what the terrorists rely upon: that, and interference from the likes of the Human Rights Commission.

Basil McCrea summed it up pretty well when he said “the object of human rights legislation is to protect people from abuses of power… however, it is not in place to provide inventive ways to circumvent potential justice or to use as a stick to beat the police service with”.

Terrorism won’t be beaten by human rights legislation and it won’t be beaten by a branch of the legal industry which seems to think that it has no function other than to search for loopholes in existing legislation.

Monica McWilliams insisted that her job is not to “reflect populist sentiment”. That being the case, perhaps she could explain to mere mortals like myself what, precisely, her job is? Whose side is she on: that of the gorgonzola-holed human rights legislation that provides the means of escape for terrorists and terrorist suspects, or that of a populist sentiment which thinks that terrorists should be given a very rough time indeed by the policing and judicial system?

Belfast Newsletter.

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