The fight against not a war.

On Tuesday night– the 23rd of January- Sir Ken Macdonald, the current director of public prosecutions, addressing the Criminal Bar Association, called on Mr. Blair’s and his government to employ restraint in passing laws to deal with terrorism.  

This, it seems to me, something asking King Lear to be reasonable in the demands he made of his daughters. Let’s not dwell on that too much. 

Sir Ken warned said that a “fear-driven and inappropriate” response to the threat could result in Britain’s abandoning altogether respect for fair trials.

It appears to have escaped Sir Ken’s notice that the government has long ago encouraged the public to lose espect for fair trials by encouraging it think that fair trials they do not work when it comes to dealing with terrorism.  

Giving the impression that he is a man to whom this thought had not occurred, though it must have, he went on to say that:  

…. a culture of legislative restraint in the area of terrorist crime is central to the existence of an efficient and human rights compatible process. We wouldn’t get far in promoting a civilising culture of respect for rights amongst and between citizens if we set about undermining fair trials in the simple pursuit of greater numbers of inevitably less safe convictions. On the contrary, it is obvious that the process of winning convictions ought to be in keeping with a consensual rule of law and not detached from it. Otherwise we sacrifice fundamental values critical to the maintenance of the rule of law – upon which everything else depends.

London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, ’soldiers’. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a ‘war on terror’, just as there can be no such thing as a ‘war on drugs’.

The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement.

The Guardian’s legal editor, Clare Dyer, observed in her report next day:

(Sir Ken’s)…. comments will be seen as a swipe against government legislation allowing the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without trial, later held incompatible with human rights by the courts, and the replacement law that permits suspects to be placed under control orders instead of being brought to trial.

Sir Ken referred to the government’s opt-out from the European convention on human rights to pass the detention law – possible under the convention only if the “life of the nation” is threatened. “Everyone here will come to their own conclusion about whether, in the striking Strasbourg phrase, the very ‘life of the nation’ is presently endangered,” he said. “And everyone here will equally understand the risk to our constitution if we decide that it is, when it is not.

The criminal justice response to terrorism must be “proportionate and grounded in due process and the rule of law,” he said. “We must protect ourselves from these atrocious crimes without abandoning our traditions of freedom.” 

There are some among us, myself included, who believe that we have already abandoned too many freedoms and that Sir Ken’s remarks, admirably clear-headed and insightful though they may be, come much, much too late. Will they have any immediate effect on what the government does? I shouldn’t think so.


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