Habeas corpus

I thought the UK’s interventions in the Middle East were to uphold democracy and the rule of law. Aren’t we keen that Libya, Afghanistan and the rest enjoy the freedoms and the rights that we take for granted in a western democracy?

I want our troops in Afghanistan to stop patrolling and remain within the base, to offer any remaining training and assistance, coupled with early withdrawal of as many as possible. By now Afghans should be able to police their own country, and our troops should be taken out of harm’s way.

One of the crucial rights that every freeborn English person enjoys is the right to a fair trial if accused, or the right to be at liberty if not accused. Habeas corpus was long established in the UK, and is a fundamental pillar of US democratic values as well.

Surely, if we are to assist Middle Eastern countries establish the rule of law and democratic rights, we should advise the host country to treat people under that system. If we hold prisoners we think have committed serious crimes, they should be handed over to the national authorities and charged. If there is no proof they should be let go, with a full report to the local authorities so they can keep an eye on anyone still under suspicion where there is insufficient evidence to prosecute.If their law allows the released people could be kept under surveillance.

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26 Comments

  1. Posted May 30, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood,
    Our interventions in the Middle East were undertaken to protect this country from terrorism, or so we were told. All our actions, as you rightly say, should be controlled by the rule of law and where British soldiers have been accused of offending against the law, the results are a matter of record.

    We have no right to seek to impose democracy on another country and our Middle Eastern adventures in Irak, Afghanistan and Libya illustrate the folly of attempting it. Any attempt to repeat the experiment in Syria can do nothing but harm.

    We would do well to address the failure of Government in this country to uphold our own Constitutional freedoms, rather than interfering in the freedom of others. Detention without trial for up to 28 days, the imposition of foreign law, trials without juries are now a common occurrence in England. Until Parliament returns to the Rule of Law as set out in the English Constitution, these abuses will continue and successive governments will attempt to distract the electorate by pointing the finger at other uncivilised places.

    You will remember the words spoken by the Christ about motes and beams.

    John Wrake

    • uanime5
      Posted May 31, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Trial without a jury has been in the norm in the UK for some time. 98% of criminal cases are tried by magistrates (three judges, no jury) and almost all civil cases don’t use a jury. I doubt that adding juries to either trials would benefit anyone.

  2. Alan Wheatley
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    BBC Radio4 addressed the issue of the holding facility in Camp Bastion (it was earlier this week and I think it was Today or the PM programme).

    The first interviewee was a member of a law firm representing nine (I think) of the 86 people being held, who were objecting to their unreasonable detention.

    The second interviewee was the Minister, who pointed out that the same law firm had earlier initiated proceedings against the government on the grounds that if detainees were passed on to the Afghan authorities it was likely their human rights would be infringed.

    So, the issue turns out to be more complicated than at first appears.

    A subsequent government announcement that they have found a way of passing on detainees, presumably without danger to their human rights, is to be welcomed.

  3. Iain Gill
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Re “One of the crucial rights that every freeborn English person enjoys is the right to a fair trial if accused” unless you are a driver when they will make the costs of defending any prosecution, and the penalties if you loose, so outrageous that vast numbers will admit their guilt via the fixed penalty system under duress

    • lifelogic
      Posted May 30, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      Indeed the balance is arranged such that even if you are totally in the right you lose financially and in wasted time anyway. Motorist mugging mainly to pay the salaries and pensions of the providers of these vital “public services” such as mugging people.

      Can we restore Habeas corpus in the UK too please.

  4. Posted May 30, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    In the Afghan case it would seem that lawyers fought against these prisoners being handed over to the Afghan authorities, and now the very same lawyers are complaining that we have held them instead. It says more about lawyers than our justice system.

  5. Posted May 30, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I don’t think we should be telling people how to run their countries.

  6. Leslie Singleton
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Too sanctimonious and Utopian for my taste. “Keeping an eye on” is not quite as easy as you imply in the mountain wildernesses of places like Afghanistan. And when Habeus Corpus came in, explosives and weapons weren’t anything like as easy to acquire and use or as dangerous as they are today and if a few combatants have to suffer to save the lives of possibly thousands of totally innocent people who would otherwise be blown up that makes sense to me. In this day and age, and in this context, “Innocent till proven Guilty” is much overrated. Of course the lawyers love it–I wonder why. Whether we should have gone to Afghanistan in the first place (No) is another story.

  7. Martyn G
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    “One of the crucial rights that every freeborn English person enjoys is the right to a fair trial if accused, or the right to be at liberty if not accused. Habeas corpus was long established in the UK, and is a fundamental pillar of US democratic values as well”.

    That may well be the case within the UK but I, as a free-born Englishman, can be summarily extradited to another EU country on a trumped-up charge made there and no UK court can prevent that from happening. In short, EU Law in this respect, to which our unspeakable governments have signed up to, overrides habeas corpus; quite a disgraceful state of affairs.

  8. A different Simon
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    “One of the crucial rights that every freeborn English person enjoys is the right to a fair trial if accused, or the right to be at liberty if not accused.”

    What is the EU’s position on Habeas Corpus John ?

    Are you sure that all those countries which the UK executes European Arrest Warrant’s for respect Habeas Corpus ?

    Aren’t there hundreds of Britons who have been on remand in European jails for alleged non-terrorist offences for over 12 months without even receiving a trial date or even being properly charged ?

    • A different Simon
      Posted May 30, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Isn’t Habeas Corpus just one example of the differences between English Law and law in European countries ?

      Aren’t there others such as differences in the burden of proof too ?

      Doesn’t it all stem from a basic incompatibility whereby the UK believes in liberty and freedom and the need to protect the individual from abuses of powers of the state whereas on the continent the individual is only legally able do what the state has explicitly prescribed ?

      • Peter van Leeuwen
        Posted May 30, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        @A different Simon:
        Instead of looking at the rest of the EU, why not look at the UK itself, the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974. This Act allowed the security forces to apprehend and detain persons suspected of terrorist activities without trial for an unlimited period. I don’t see much habeas corpus respect for the suspected individual here.

  9. Aatif Ahmad
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Freeborn Englishmen? Are there any who are not freeborn?

  10. They work for Us
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    This seems to be a typical dilemma placed on the British people by foolish politicians.

    You are fighting Afghan combatants and decide to take no prisoners – not allowed.

    You are fighting Afghan combatants and do take prisoners. The normal course of action to hand them over to their countrymen – not allowed by ??? and why should we take note.

    Freeing them to do it again – unwise.

    I note that once again legal aid from my taxes is funding lawyers to represent Afghan combatants against us. How on earth do we allow ourselves to get into these situations? Handover to the Afghans should be automatic.

  11. Mark B
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Democracy is counter to the beliefs and wishes of the peoples in those regions you mention. I believe you are well intentioned in your piece but hopelessly misguided, especially with regards to Afghanistan.

    Our belief here in the UK of innocent until proven guilty has taken a bit of a battering. Especially in view that we can now be deported to other countries within the EU, who have different and, conflicting ways of administrating justice. This, as we inextricably slide into ‘ever closer union’ shall be more and more apparent.

    • A different Simon
      Posted May 30, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      “Democracy is counter to the beliefs and wishes of the peoples in those regions you mention. ”

      There is only one way of determining whether the assertion made in your first paragraph is true .

      It will be interesting to see whether the English establishment is prepared to give up it’s legal system and exchange it for an inferior one in the interests of ever closer union .

      How well did they think this United States of Europe thing through ?

    • lifelogic
      Posted May 30, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      Indeed and extradited straight to jail in US too, without the need for them even to present any evidence.

  12. Gary
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    You are indeed a principled man, and under the circumstances, brave.

    Judge them by their actions. Despite what they profess, they are not interested in democracy nor Habeas corpus. They are only interested in domination by force. These people are the latest incarnation of mercantilist holdouts from a bygone era , who cannot accept that those days are gone. They will impoverish us and destroy half the world in their obstinacy to prove otherwise. I think Peter Oborne in today’s Telegraph highlights one aspect of the stitched-up state of affairs that lead us to this situation.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/10086837/The-whiff-of-suspicion-over-the-Chilcot-Inquiry-grows-stronger.html

  13. Michael Booth
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Wake up Mr. Redwood – Britain no longer ‘does what it says on the tin…’

  14. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    How do Guantanamo Bay etc and habeus corpus go together? They don’t in peacetime. We could say that habeus corpus is abandoned during a time of war, but we haven’t formally declared war against anybody, have we? Note the word ‘formally’.

  15. Normandee
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    It’s a no win situation, you keep them you are wrong, you hand them over to the Afghani’s and they torture and kill them you are still wrong. Why don’t we hand over the lawyers as our guarantee of fair treatment.

  16. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Habeas Corpus : what a delightful high minded sentiment ,’ may you have the body’
    One hopes incorporated into that phrase is not a mind / body distinction . A persons , intelligence, psyche, ‘person’, id ,or what ever you like to refer to it as, is the freedom also, however it is not the freedom to do as one likes .The overiding ‘do no harm to others’ must take priority. What is harm to others , who instigates it? who retaliates? do fascists / autocracies/ imperialists think that national interest outweighs individual interests? It is a complex area.YET suffering must be a definite NO.
    I too have lost my faith in the law in this country, but whilst there is no substitute, we must hope that morals and ethics come before a ‘killing for a win’ approach and massaging evidence. Dirty competition has infiltrated law and business, but take away the safeguards and we have little hope of not joining other despotic regions where wars and aggression is rife.

  17. uanime5
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Before handing over anyone for trial we should ensure that the trials will be conducted fairly, that the sentence is proportional to the crime, and that the prison meets minimum standards. Assisting in trials seen as unjust will not endear the UK to the local population.

  18. Jon
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I read an interesting short piece in the paper today, the MoD employs 600 spin doctors, 100 down from labour. The plan is to have 512 by 2015.

    It seems there are many more cuts that could be born by the MoD before they turn to front line (William Hague is not helping there either). Why do they need 500 or 600 spin doctors? My guess is that if 512 seems acceptable then there must be manay many other areas in teh MoD that need a look at.

  19. Denis Cooper
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Suspension of habeas corpus is a bad thing, but sometimes the alternatives are worse.

    Pitt suspended habeas corpus during the war with Napoleon, and so did Lincoln during the Civil War; and during the Boer War the British authorities interned many thousands of Boer non-combatants in concentration camps, actually first used by the Americans on both sides for prisoners of war, where many died not as a result of any deliberate policy of extermination but through incompetent management and neglect; and internment was used during other colonial conflicts including for example in Kenya during the Mau Mau emergency; of course we also had internment of civilians in both world wars, as well as camps for prisoners of war; and after Pearl Harbour the US government interned over 100,000 citizens of Japanese origin; and we also had internment without charge or trial in Northern Ireland.

    None of these were exactly happy episodes and in some cases the repressive measures did much more harm than good, but I know nothing about the detailed circumstances of what has been done in Afghanistan and cannot say whether it is making the best or the worst of an obviously bad situation.

  20. Posted May 30, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Thank God for the English Channel for centuries and then came the EU.

    For centuries our ‘common law’, precedents hard won via jury verdicts against the tyrannical rule of the executive via legislation (some notable cases won by William Garrow in the 18th Century are particularly interesting) combined with our historic Constitutional Statutes: Magna Carta, Petition of Right, Habeas Corpus and our major constitutional treasure: Bill of Rights 1689 (we don’t need another one, we need to enforce the existing one) has meant that we evolved our legal system based on ‘common law’ meaning presumption of innocence, trial by jury, and liberty and possession of property that cannot be arbitrarily taken away by an executive bent on rule of tyranny.

    The EU and most European states legal systems evolved under ‘codified’ principles, mostly based on remnants of ancient Roman law and Napoleonic codes laid down by Bonaparte, where presumption of guilt, trial by judge(s) not one’s peers and denied the right to represent oneself (one is not deemed legally competent to do so) are the norm.

    That we have surrendered our true sovereignty to the EU is not in doubt. That we are being legislated out of our common law and common sense existence by the EU and are nearing the end game of a potential final financial and political treaty for full integration in the next 3-5 years is so evident also.

    That and many of the other decisions that lack a common sense background is why we rant and rage against most of what comes from Brussels and the EU.

    At its heart it is a cultural resistance and its growing.

    We no longer have an English Channel to keep the invaders out, we no longer have a sovereign Parliament to keep the EU out either, all we have left are our collective right to peacefully withdraw our consent to be governed as such……and it needs a voice.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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