400 Words* of total crap

I am deeply endebted to Leo McKinistry, as author of the Thunderer column in today’s Times, for providing the following example of complete and utter illiberal crap, which I present today for your general edification – with annotatations, naturally

MR JUSTICE SULLIVAN is lucky he is not facing a prosecution for perverting the course of justice after his extraordinary decision to give a bunch of Afghan hijackers the right to settle in Britain. The High Court judge’s ludicrous ruling makes a mockery of the law, treats the public with contempt and sends out the message that our country is a haven for gun-toting hostage-takers.

Actually it does nothing of the sort; Mr Justice Sullivan’s ruling concerns the correct application of UK immigration law in line with Britain’s duties in International, European and UK law in respect of refugees/asylum seekers, but we’ll let that pass for the moment and see what else Leo has to say…

Any normal, morally self-confident system would hold that a gangster who smuggles guns and explosives on to a plane and then threatens to kill all the passengers had abnegated any claim to have his human rights treated seriously. But our bewigged, complacent judges seem to inhabit an alternative moral universe, a place of legalistic quibbling and abstract theorising, where all common sense has been abandoned and the rights of foreign criminals are given priority over the interests and security of the public.

Leo has clearly forgotten the circumstances in which this hijacking took place. The nine Afghan nationals to which this ruling relates, hijacked an internal flight in February 2000, which was eventually flown to the UK, via Moscow, landing at Stansted Airport where, after four days of negotiations all passengers and crew on the plane were released unharmed.

The actual hijackers were arrested, tried and, subsequently, convicted for the hijacking, receiving sentences of between 5 years and 27 months, which may seem rather lenient, however in handing down sentence Judge Sir Edwin Jowatt had this to say about the case:

The judge conceded the initial hijacking "was brought about by fear of death at the hand of a tyrannical, unreasoning and merciless regime".

He said: "This was a case which was different to other hijacking cases.

"I accept you were fleeing Afghanistan in fear for your own lives."

He added: "But for that the sentences for all of you would be much longer."

BBC News Online – 18 Jan 2002



Any morally self-confident society would consider the circumstances leading up to the hijack to provide considerable mitigation for their actions – it does not excuse but it does explain and in terms with which any reasonable person could, and should empathise – it should be noted that of the 150 Afghan passengers taken hostage during the hijack, 60 claimed asylum on release.

The nine hijackers susbsequently appealed against their convictions, which were quashed in July 2004, when the Appeal Court ruled that the original trial judge had misdirected the jury in the application of the principle of ‘duress’ – a technicality, yes, but an important one. However due to time it took to hear the appeal, all but two of nine had served out their sentences without – as far as I can ascertain – without incident and equally I can find no suggestion anywhere that any of these men have been involved in any further criminal conduct since the hijacking itself.

These men are not gangsters, and while one cannot condone their actions in hijacking the plane, one can legitimate ask the question of what you would have done had you have been in their situation – would you hijack a plane if you were in fear for your life and it was the only way you could see to escape from a brutal and murderous regime like the Taleban.

This is, as the judges who have dealt with this case throughout have stressed, an exceptional case dealing with exceptional events – and not a matter of simple criminality.

Indeed, it is sometimes hard to know whose side the civic authorities are on. Citizens are constantly bullied and threatened with imprisonment for driving too fast, failing to pay a TV licence, falling behind with the council tax, dropping a crisp packet or holding unfashionable views about cultural diversity and homosexuality.

What a wonderful euphemism we have at the end of this sentence – ‘holding unfasionable views about cultural diversity and homosexuality’ – or to put it more simply – ‘being a racist, homophobic twat’.

Yet a gang of Afghan Muslims, without any connection to Britain, can hijack a plane and threaten mass murder, only to find themselves rewarded not only with the right to live here, but also with a string of welfare benefits. It is estimated that the British taxpayer has been forking out at least £150,000 a year to feed and house the hijackers while their legal cases were processed. In total, more than £10 million, including the usual exorbitant legal fees, has been spent on this wretched gang.

There are several points to pick up from this paragraph.

First, having a prior connection to a particular country is not a pre-requisite for seeking asylum in that country and never has been – or perhaps Leo believes we should only accept asylum-seekers from Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

To be granted asylum is not a ‘reward’ for their having carried out a hijacking – the two are entirely separate matters. Nor is their entitlement to welfare benefits a reward either – they have had no choice but to claim benefits due to the government’s decision to hold them on what amounts to an indeterminate residency status, which denies them the right to work – this is a classic ‘you can’t have it both ways’ situation, if you are going to deny asylum-seekers the right to work and earn a living for themselves then you can’t complain about them receiving benefits. The same argument applies in respect of the legal costs incurred in this case – if you deny people the right to work then you really have no ground for complaint when they claim legal aid, unless you believe that foreigners should not be accorded the basic right to adequate legal representation and are happy to undermine one of the core principles of the British justice system.

This grim saga encapsulates so much that has gone wrong with the governance of Britain: pathetically short sentences for criminals; lawyers earning a fortune by parading their synthetic compassion; epic welfare profligacy; and thugs laughing at our craven surrender to their brutality.

Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad and our mother would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah.

Tony Blair is now ranting against the judiciary, but his Government is largely to blame for making such a fetish of human rights, symbolised by the Human Rights Act 1998 that acted as the catalyst for this judicial revolution. Only a fortnight ago, Mr Blair promised to “hassle, harry and hound” foreign criminals out of the country. How laughably hollow those words now look.

And, as usual the Human Rights Act gets the blame – except that all HRA 1998 actually does in encapsulate in the UK law, the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is binding on the UK anyway.

The net effect of the Human Right Act, which Leo clearly fails to, or refuses to, understand is merely to speed up access to justice and reduce the costs incurred in human rights cases by enabling the vast majority of them to heard within the UK system, rather than have them go to the European Court of Human Right, where proceeding take considerable longer and costs are substantially greater.

In this case the Government is to blame, not for making a fetish of human right but for failing to deal with these nine men fairly, equitably and within the law. Instead they chose to concoct an ad-hoc system which appears to have been pretty much pulled out of the collective arses of the Home Office, in irder to deal with these men – a system which has rightly been ruled unlawful.

Ultimately, this is not a matter of human rights but a simple matter of justice – these men were arrested, tried, convicted and served time in prison for having hijacked a plane to get to the UK – in all but two case, the time spent on remand and in prison following their initial conviction more than adequately covered the sentences they were given, long before those convictions were overturned on appeal.

These men have already been punished, in accordance with the law, for their part in the hijacking in 2000, so how is justice to be served by punishing them a second time by repatriating them to a country who President has authority only in so far as the boundaries of its capital city, where corruption is rife, where the rule of law has but a tenuous hold and where the very people that these men were fleeing from, the Taleban, continue to murder and maim seemingly at will across large sections of the country.

If one is to blame the government for anything, it is for being too ready and too inclined to give credence to the illiberal, venomous and xenophobic media rantings of reactionary twats, like Leo McKinisitry, rather than stand up for civilised values and plain, old fashioned justice.

Time and again in recent times, the judiciary have weathered the storm of such rantings and done what is right, proper and in the best interests of British justice, while the real hijackers of British justice – the Home Office, The Mail, Sun and Express – go largely unpunished.

*Actually the article is 391 words in length, but 400 sounds better as a title.

3 thoughts on “400 Words* of total crap

  1. The Human Rights Act does rather more than give domestic effect to something that was previously binding – the ECHR before the Act was passed was binding in international law alone – that is its force was only to cause a loss of face. The HRA has actually made the convention (moderately) effective within our legal system, authorised greater creativity in the judicial interpretation of statutes, and changed the duties of public authorities to respect human rights, rather than before where the law might conflict with human rights, their duty would have been to uphold the law as it was written.

    It also allows the courts to measure legislation, and pass judgment upon it, even if not to strike it down; thus the loss of face is rather more imminent and there is a dialogue about human rights in this country which was before absent.

    All to the good.

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