House of Lords upholds Human Rights Act

Yesterday, the House of Lords held that imprisoning foreign terror suspects without charging them or trying them is against the European Convention on Human Rights. (Independent Guardian)

Here’s the text of the judgment.

Curiously, not a day after the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, was forced to retire for other reasons, this was a thumbs-down vote on his policies.

It’s a really important decision where nine law lords sit (by the way, they don’t wear robes or wigs, and there was a majority of eight to one. The full name of the court is the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords.

I wanted to see what the German papers did with it, but there is little available. The topic was promptly reported by the wonderful German weblog on human rights, Menschenrechte, which quoted an Austrian source.

From the Independent report:

bq. Lord Hoffmann, one of the panel of nine law lords, said: “[This case] calls into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country has until now been very proud: freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention.”

bq. In response to government arguments that the anti-terrorism Act was necessary to protect the life of the nation, Lord Hoffmann said: “The real threat to the life of the nation … comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these.

bq. “That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory.”

bq. Baroness Hale said that the law was clearly discriminatory: “Substitute ‘black’, ‘disabled’, ‘female’, ‘gay’, … and ask whether it would be justifiable to … lock up that group but not the ‘white’, ‘able-bodied’, ‘male’ or ‘straight’ suspected international terrorists. The answer is clear.” After being told of the ruling, detainee “A”, who is being held in Woodhill Prison, Buckinghamshire, said: “This ruling should send a message to the legislators that ‘national security’ can never take precedence over human rights.”

7 thoughts on “House of Lords upholds Human Rights Act

  1. Margaret

    Hardly had the decision been announced than the British Government stated that they would not be releasing the prisoners, a statement upheld by the new Home Secretary. I guess Blair will just ignore the ruling. So much for the law…..


  2. I missed that. Of course, it’s always been the case that the ECHR decisions aren’t binding in themselves but request the government to change the law. There was a similar outcry in Germany recently when the Bundesverfassungsgericht gave a decision on how far it was bound by the decisions of the ECHR.

  3. I wonder why they bother issuing a decision at all Margaret. One more reason perhaps for a “world police”……


  4. But with these politicians, you never know what they’re up to. It’s hard to believe that Blair’s government will want to change the law, but maybe they do. Whatever, they certainly don’t want to send that message to the world this week, whether to avoid appearing weak or to pacify some other government. So I think even if they did intend to change it, they still wouldn’t say so now.

  5. Members of the Bar like Tony Blair and of the Bench like Jack Straw wearing their politicians’ hats cannot simply ignore this ruling.

    Nor is the new Home Secretary immune from a court application for habeas corpus or an injunction by the detainees’ hopefully fearless lawyers. Injunctions have been granted against Home Secretaries in the past.

    One came perilously close to being arrested himself for contempt of court for disobeying an order to stop a deportation at Heathrow: R. v. M. (1994) where M was dragged back to Africa and never heard of again.

  6. Is that really possible, since they’ve presumably exhausted their remedies at home and gone to Strasbourg? On what basis could an injunction be granted, other than that the government has been asked to change the law?

    Yes, I don’t think they can ignore it either, they’re just playing tough at the moment. Particularly with Blunkett scarcely out of the door, they don’t want to send a completely different message.

  7. Exhausting all remedies pre-Strasbourg doesn’t stop the process re-starting de novo back home.

    I’m sure that, for instance, the lawyers in Matrix Chambers of Cherie Blair QC could frame suitable injunctive-type, judicial-review applications in admin. law – 1) a mandamus i.e. mandatory injunction to release or issue a trial indictment – and 2) certiorari, now called quashing i.e. of the decision to detain.

    David ‘Phillipine Nanny’ Blunkett as Home Secretary may have railed against unelected Judges interfering with elected politicians’ decision, but much of the UK electorate still applaud judges standing up to authoritarian government.

    As Lord Denning in his retirement speech exhorted senior judges from all over the British Isles: ‘Do not, my colleagues when I am gone, forget the English Barons who stood up to King John at Runnymede in 1215 and made him sign the Magna Carta’. Certainly this message was not lost on Lord Hoffmann.

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