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Blair to curb human rights in war on terror

Posted in the database on Sunday, August 07th, 2005 @ 13:01:40 MST (1281 views)
by George Jones    news.telegraph  

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Tony Blair at Downing Street: 'The rules of the game are changing'

Tony Blair served notice yesterday that he was ready to renounce parts of the European convention on human rights if British and European judges continued to block the deportation of Islamic extremists in the wake of the London bombings.

In a significant shift away from the human rights policies championed by Labour since 1997, Mr Blair indicated that he was no longer prepared to allow Britain to be a haven for Muslim extremists whose presence in London has resulted in its being dubbed "Londonistan".

He said he was prepared for "a lot of battles" with the courts, which have repeatedly intervened to prevent the Home Secretary from deporting "preachers of hate" and other foreign nationals regarded as a threat to national security.

"Should legal obstacles arise, we will legislate further, including, if necessary, amending the Human Rights Act in respect of the interpretation of the European convention on human rights," the Prime Minister said.

At a Downing Street press conference before leaving for his summer holiday, he outlined 12 far-reaching curbs on civil liberties to tackle the growth of Islamic extremism.

The sweeping package of anti-terrorist laws included deporting Islamic extremists, closing mosques that fomented hatred, outlawing radical Muslim groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, vetting foreign imams before they came to Britain and stronger powers to deal with home-grown fanatics.

Mr Blair said that because of the London bombings the public wanted new laws to deport and exclude religious fanatics and extremists who were abusing the country's traditional values of tolerance and fair play. The mood was now different and people no longer accused the Government of "scaremongering".

"Let no one be in any doubt," he said, "the rules of the games are changing."

At the heart of the security measures was Mr Blair's determination to regain the right of the elected government to deport foreigners it believed posed a threat to national security.

This was a recognition that the Human Rights Act, introduced by Labour in 1998, had made it virtually impossible to deport foreign militants and enabled the law lords to strike down anti-terrorism laws because they considered them incompatible with the European convention.

Mr Blair's wife, Cherie, a human rights lawyer, has said that the Government should not be provoked into interfering with the independence of the courts. Questioned about her views, the Prime Minister said the right to life and freedom from terrorism was a basic human right.

New grounds for deportation published by the Home Office included fostering hatred, advocating or justifying violence, or active engagement with extremist websites, bookshops and networks.

Mr Blair acknowledged that, since 1996, deportations had been blocked as a result of a European Court ruling that article 3 of the convention on human rights prevented people from being sent back to countries where they could face torture or ill-treatment. He said the circumstances of Britain's national security had changed and the Government was ready to test its new powers in the courts at home and in Europe.

The Government was seeking assurances from the countries where deportees would be returned that they would not be ill-treated. Agreement had been reached with Jordan and discussions were continuing with 10 other countries, including Algeria and Lebanon.

In what will be seen as a plea to British and European judges to reflect the public demand for action, Mr Blair said that France and Spain, both subject to the same human rights convention, were able to deport by administrative decision, with their courts ready to accept assurances that deportees would not be ill-treated on their return.

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, welcomed the Government's proposals. He said it was vital that the Home Secretary was able to use his powers to deport or exclude non-British citizens who threatened national security.

Mr Blair ran into opposition from civil rights campaigners and the Liberal Democrats, who said the Government risked inflaming tensions and alienating Muslims.

Eric Metcalfe, of the human rights group Justice, predicted that any attempt to amend the Human Rights Act to force the courts to deport foreigners was "doomed to failure".

Some mainstream Muslim groups backed the measures. Omar Farook, of the Islamic Society of Britain, said that measures to deal with "the menace" of foreign extremists who based themselves in Britain were long overdue. But the Islamic Council of Britain said the ban on Hizb-ut-Tahrir would be counter-productive.

Mr Blair acknowledged that while the public had responded with tolerance to the attacks on London, there was also a determination "that this very tolerance and determination should not be abused by a small fanatical minority".

He confirmed that there would be new anti-terrorist legislation in the autumn, including an offence of condoning or glorifying terrorism which would apply anywhere, not only in Britain.

If it could be prepared in time, the Government was ready to recall Parliament next month from its 80-day summer recess.

Mr Blair acknowledged that there was now a need to consider whether the policy of multi-culturalism had resulted in ethnic groups failing to integrate.

The Government would consider whether requirements for people who became British citizens were adequate: swearing allegiance to the country, taking part in a citizenship ceremony and having an adequate grasp of the language.

He emphasised that the new powers were aimed at a "fringe of extremists" and not the law-abiding Muslim community.

"Coming to Britain is not a right and, even when people have come here, staying here carries with it a duty," he said. "That duty is to ensure and support the values that sustain the British way of life.

"Those who break that duty and try to incite hatred or engage in violence against our country or our people have no place here."

Full text: The prime minister's statement on anti-terror measures
Friday August 5, 2005

Since July 7 the response of the British people has been unified, dignified and remarkable. Of course there is anxiety and worry. But the country knows the purpose of terrorism is to intimidate and it is not inclined to be intimidated. Of course too there have been isolated and unacceptable acts of a racial or religious hatred. But they have been isolated. By and large Britain knows it is a tolerant and good-natured nation, is rather proud of it and has responded to this terrorism with tolerance and good nature in a way that has won the admiration of people and nations the world over. However, I am acutely aware that alongside these feelings is also a determination that this very tolerance and good nature should not be abused by a small, but fanatical minority; and an anger that it has been. Time and again, over the past few weeks, I have been asked to deal firmly with those prepared to engage in such extremism; and most particularly those who incite it or proselytise it. The Muslim community have been and are our partners in this endeavour. Much of the insistence on strong action to weed out extremism is coming most vigorously from Muslims themselves, deeply concerned lest the activities of the fanatical fringe should contaminate the good reputation of the mainstream Muslim community in our country.

Such action in the past has been controversial. Each tightening of the law has met fierce opposition. Regularly we have had defeat in parliament or the courts. The anti-terrorism legislation, passed in 2002 after September 11 was declared partially invalid. The successor legislation hotly contested.

But, for obvious reasons, the mood now is different. People do not talk of "scaremongering". To be fair, the Conservative leadership has responded with a genuine desire to work together for the good of the country, as have the Liberal Democrats.

Over the past two weeks, intensive meetings across government have taken place to set a comprehensive framework for action in dealing with the terrorist threat in Britain. Today I want to give your our preliminary assessment of the measures we need urgently to examine.

In the meantime, insofar as administrative measures, not requiring legislation, can be taken, we will act with immediate effect.

In looking both at the law and administrative measures, we have surveyed extensively practice in other countries, including in particular other European countries. To assist this process, there will be a series of consultation papers over the coming weeks starting with a research paper that will detail experience in other countries. There will also be a cross government unit staffed by senior hand-picked officials to drive this forward under the guidance of Bill Jeffrey, the intelligence and security coordinator and the cabinet committee on counter terrorism which I chair. The home secretary with whom I have been talking closely in the past week, will have the cabinet responsibility for coordinating this.

Here are the measures either being taken now, immediately, or under urgent examination.

1. The home secretary today publishes new grounds for deportation and exclusion. Deportation is a decision taken by the home secretary under statute. The new grounds will include fostering hatred, advocating violence to further a person's beliefs or justifying or validating such violence. These grounds will be subject to a short consultation period which will finish this month. Even under existing grounds, however, we are today signalling a new approach to deportation orders. Let no one be in any doubt. The rules of the game are changing.

These issues will, of course, be tested in the courts. Up to now, the concern has been that orders for deportation will be struck down as contrary to article 3 of the ECHR [European convention on human rights], as interpreted by the European Court in the Chahal case in 1996; and indeed have had such cases struck down.

However, the circumstances of our national security have now self-evidently changed and we believe we can get the necessary assurances from the countries to which we will return the deportees, against their being subject to torture or ill-treatment contrary to article 3. We have concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with Jordan and are close to getting necessary assurances from other relevant countries. For example, just yesterday, I have had very constructive conversations with the leaders of Algeria and Lebanon. There are around 10 such countries with whom we are seeking such assurances.

France and Spain, to name just two other European countries, do deport by administrative decision. The effect is often immediate and in some cases the appeal is non-suspensive in other words it takes place outside the country. The assurances given by the receiving nation are adequate for their courts and these countries are also subject to the ECHR and apply it directly.

So it is important to test this anew now, in view of the changed conditions in Britain. Should legal obstacles arise, we will legislate further, including, if necessary amending the Human Rights Act, in respect of the interpretation of the ECHR. In any event, we will consult on legislating specifically for a non-suspensive appeal process in respect of deportations.

One other point on deportations. Once the new grounds take effect, there will be a list drawn up of specific extremist websites, bookshops, centres, networks and particular organisations of concern. Active engagement with any of these will be a trigger for the home secretary to consider the deportation of any foreign national.

2. As has been stated already, there will be new anti-terrorism legislation in the autumn. This will include an offence of condoning or glorifying terrorism. The sort of remarks made in recent days should be covered by such laws. But this will also be applied to justifying or glorifying terrorism anywhere, not just in the UK.

3. Anyone who has participated in terrorism or has anything to do with it anywhere will automatically be refused asylum.

4. We have already powers to strip citizenship from those individuals with British or dual nationality who act in a way that is contrary to the interests of this country. We will now consult on extending these powers, applying them to naturalised citizens engaged in extremism and making the procedures simpler and more effective.

5. Cases such as Rashid Ramda wanted for the Paris metro bombing 10 years ago and who is still in the UK whilst France seeks extradition, are completely unacceptable. We will begin consultation, on setting a maximum time limit for all future extradition cases involving terrorism.

6. We are already examining a new court procedure which would allow a pre-trial process. We will also examine whether the necessary procedure can be brought about to give us a way of meeting the police and security service request that detention pre-charge of terrorist suspects be significantly extended.

7. For those who are British nationals and who cannot be deported, we will extend the use of control orders. Any breach can mean imprisonment.

8. To expand the court capacity necessary to deal with this and other related issues, the Lord Chancellor will increase the number of special judges hearing such cases.

9. We will proscribe Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the successor organisation of Al Muhajiroun. We will also examine the grounds of proscription to widen them and put proposals forward in the new legislation.

10. It is now necessary, in order to acquire British citizenship, that people attend a citizenship ceremony, swear allegiance to the country and have a rudimentary grasp of the English language. We will review the threshold for this to make sure it is adequate and we will establish, with the Muslim community, a commission to advise on how, consistent with people's complete freedom to worship in the way they want, and to follow their own religion and culture, there is better integration of those parts of the community presently inadequately integrated. I have asked Hazel Blears to make this part of the work she is currently undertaking.

11. We will consult on a new power to order closure of a place of worship which is used as a centre for fomenting extremism and will consult with Muslim leaders in respect of those clerics who are not British citizens, to draw up a list of those not suitable to preach who will be excluded from Britain.

12. We will bring forward the proposed measures on the security of our borders, with a series of countries specifically designated for biometric visas over the next year. Meanwhile, the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office are compiling an international database of those individuals whose activities or views pose a threat to Britain's security. Anyone on the database will be excluded from entry with any appeal only taking place outside the country.

We will consult widely on these measures, including the other political parties of course. This is evidently a heavy agenda to take forward. But it is necessary. Let me also make it clear. If legislation can be made ready in time and the right consensus is achieved, we are ready to recall parliament in September, at least to begin the debate over the measures.

I want to make it clear, yet again, that this is not in any way whatever aimed at the decent, law-abiding Muslim community of Britain. We know this fringe does not truly represent Islam. We know British Muslims in general abhor the actions of the extremists. We acknowledge, once again, Muslim contribution to our country and welcome it; welcome those who visit in peace; welcome those who know that in this country, the respect and tolerance towards others, which we believe in, is the surest guarantee of freedom and progress for people of all religious faiths.

But, coming to Britain is not a right. And even when people have come here, staying here carries with it a duty. That duty is to share and support the values that sustain the British way of life. Those that break that duty and try to incite hatred or engage in violence against our country and its people, have no place here. Over the coming months, in the courts, in parliament, in debate and engagement with all parts of our communities, we will work to turn those sentiments into reality. That is my duty as prime minister.

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