Friday, 26 February 2010

Government and Judiciary relations at breaking point over torture ruling

The Times reports that relations between the government and the judiciary are at breaking point following the decision of the Court of Appeal to reinstate a judge's criticism of MI5 in a landmark torture ruling.

The judgment concerns the mistreatment in CIA custody of ex Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed, and what MI5 knew about it.

The original ruling caused outrage when it emerged that the part in which Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls, questioned the honesty of secret service officers, had been removed following Foreign Office interference.

Now Judge Neuberger and two colleagues have reinstated the paragraph, rewritten to focus the criticism on the individual case. They have also published the original draft text.

Alan Johnson, Home Secretary, said he was deeply disappointed by the court's decision to criticize the Security Service in that manner.

He said: "The Government respects the right of the judges to reach their own judgment. But it is also right that, where we disagree with their conclusions, we say so. The UK’s security and intelligence services do outstanding work to keep us safe against a real and continuing terrorist threat, and they do so under proper control and oversight - by ministers, the Intelligence and Security Committee, the commissioners and, where necessary, the courts."

Without going into the rights and wrongs of torture, or Guantanamo, or indeed the whole war against terror, all of which may be good material for further posts by me or other contributors, we really do need to establish something.

The government depends upon the courts and the judges to uphold the law. Many people criticize them for being out of touch, elitist, superior, wrong minded... and so on, but they are the foundation of our justice system. Therefore, when they rule against the government, based in their learned way upon the laws that the government has made, it is a bit rich for ministers to get their drawers in a twist about it.

Lawyers from the foreign office should have no part in changing rulings of the courts and when they do, they should not be overly surprised that the courts eventually get their own way.

It seems to me that the Blair-Brown government was so desperate to co-operate with the Bush-Cheney administration that they were happy to overlook the fact that prisoners were being tortured. Brits, for all their faults (including island mentality xenophobia and a general dislike of anything that isn’t Anglo-Saxon, except curries and Spanish beaches), are essentially decent people. They don’t like their governments colluding in torture and this government was at least smart enough to recognize that and lie about rendition flights and actual knowledge of torture.

They were forced to admit that they had, erm, got it wrong about the extraordinary rendition flights and to apologize. Now they would do well to do the same thing here.

They have the power to change the law if they wish. Until they do they would do well to obey what stands like most of the rest of us do.
Photos show Mr Neuberger and Guantanamo Bay in the south of Cuba.


  1. With the Argentinians (and Venezuela) rattling their sabres in the South Atlantic there's no way that the laws going to be changed and piss the USA off despite Obama's comments of not getting involved in a Falklands dispute.

  2. I was thinking QM, that they either need to accept the finding of Mr Neuberger, or they have to change the law to say that it's fine for MI5 to torture in collusion with the USA.

    It's up to them. At the moment it is illegal to collude in torture; they have been caught doing this and MI5 lied to parliament about it so the government and MI5 broke the law.

    It's a bit like me being caught bank robbing. The difference is that the government can, if it wants, change the laws to make what they are doing legal, and I can't. Pity. I could do with a bit of cash.

  3. tris

    A bit like us ignoring the elephant in the room in Scotland. Don't mention it and hopefully it will go away. Alex can refuse to face it but he has been found out all over the world. In UK blogs. US blogs and now Palestinian blogs...

    people who face death every day standing back and saying WTF ?

  4. Its all a bit of a mess. It really is amazing just how bad our secret service are at keeping things secret.

  5. If, as the Home Secretary claims, they are properly controlled by Ministers etc then the Ministers responsible should be held to account. Well they failing in their duty to control or were they actively condoning such actions? If I was at all cynical I would favour the latter over the former.

  6. Well Brownlie:

    You are left with the choice of the government and its ministers being useless at their job, or being complicit in torture at the behest of the Americans.... it's a hard one to call. I'd go for both. But then I AM cynical.

  7. Munguin:

    Part of the foreign office (so why is the Home Secretary talking about it? Has Wee Miliband been sent to bed early for being bad again?) so likely to spend most of their time on the kind of social activities they learned at Oxford and Cambridge. Oh for James Bond....

  8. Anon:

    I don't know wh Alex Salmond is being blamed for a tunnel collapse in Palastine. I know Labour want the very fact that there is snow to be his fault, biut that's taking it too far. Or is there something wrong with that link?

  9. Excellent post. The judiciary should of course always be entirely independent from governmental but it would be awfy naive to think that is the case.

    Bit off topic but i've always wondered who leaned on the Scottish judiciary to ensure they colluded in the stitch up that convicted 2 innocent Libyans for the bomb on PanAm 101. In my fuzzy way, i vaguly recall that the heid bummer resigned just before their appeal was heard - one suspects he'd had enough of having his arm twisted up his back to come up wi the right result.

    Hey, anon, i'm wi Tris. What has the Scottish Government got to do with the situation in Palestine? I'm sure the administration would love to try and sort that out if they were allowed to have anything approaching a foreign policy. Maybe if Scotland was an independent nation...

  10. Naldo: Thank you. I have often wondered how that happened too. But I'm guessing that when the Americans want something to happen they lean very very very heavily on the people who can make it happen.

    Having a government at that time in London rather than in our own capital and a Scottish Secretary who doubtless did exactly what the Prime Minister said, I think we have our answer.

    Mind you, I'm not sure that I would be prepared to put up much of a fight against these CIA men.