The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Tag: politics

Egypt suspends constitution

There is a lot of attention being paid to Egypt just now, and for very good reason. One of the more startling events recently is that the military have stepped in following the resignation of the, nominally, elected president after 30 years of rule.

In a situation that is probably more the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend than anything else Ayman Nour, an opposition leader who was jailed in 2005 after challenging for the presidency said, “It is a victory for the revolution.”

I have watched enough military coups in various countries around to have a reaction of “uh oh” whenever a military regime sets itself up. It is rarely a good thing when generals sweep in, dissolve the parliament and suspend the constitution.

Based on that it is very unusual to see the actions of the military being welcomed and this probably says more about the perception of Mubarak’s reign more than anything else could. They claim that they are only going to hold power temporarily until there are elections in six months or so and I sincerely hope that is true. Only time will tell.

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Libs Dems to not scrap human rights

I have always believed that the Conservative criticism of the Human Rights Act and support for a Bill of Rights is a clever bit of double think that allows them to blame Labour for unpopular decisions but not appear entirely fascist if someone criticises them for wanting to get rid of human rights. To that end I don’t really believe anything will actually change now they’re in power but grudging kudos to whoever thought of that campaign slogan.

I don’t think the Conservatives can really come up with a bundle of fundamental freedoms that didn’t occur to the drafters of the UN declaration or the European convention. There are genuine European substantive law issues that limit what they could say but, more to the point, once you get beyond rights to life and a fair trial; freedom of expression and gathering; and freedom from torture and so on you’re limited in what you can really put out as a human right anyway. “Broadband internet” is hardly human rights material, for example.

The main problem clouding this whole issue is that there is some woeful misreporting of the juicy HRA stories – at the previous election David Davis campaigned with the anecdote of a inmate who went to court seeking to enforce his human right to hardcore pornography. This is true, it happened. However what also happened is the judge laughed in his face and told him to get back to prison. That bit doesn’t make so much news. We risk repealing a piece of our constitutional framework because some people we don’t like have the temerity to go to court and unsuccessfully try to use it.

The current news is that two terror suspects can’t be deported because they face torture if they go back. The problem is that the authorities only suspect they’re terrorists but can’t convince any court that they are. That’s what suspected means. Basically some detective has a hunch. Detectives get hunches all the time, some times it’s just something they ate.

We have no idea what evidence failed to convince a judge that they were terrorists because the evidence, and the trial it was heard in, is secret. The reason given is that they don’t want to reveal their sources and I suspect that’s probably true. I just don’t know if it that’s because it’s a rubbish source that’s given ridiculously poor evidence that’s been pulled out of an orifice or if it really is some impossibly dashing secret agent bedding femme fatales while drinking martinis and driving fast cars. We wouldn’t get to hear about the evidence either way. The question in my mind has boiled down to “is the government more likely to employ James Bond or Mr Bean?” This is what I’m reduced to in trying to evaluate my own country’s counter-terrorism policy.

In the absence of an open trial process we’re left having to take the people who can’t grit the roads or tender building contracts properly at their word when they say they genuinely have caught a bad person. Even crazier is that the person they say they’ve caught has to take their word on this too because they aren’t told what they did or what the evidence is either. I never understood that — what sort of secret are you protecting by not telling them, surely they already found out when they did it in the first place?

The immigration tribunal service is not a shining example of common sense — it once told an homosexual Iranian it wanted to deport that it was safe to be gay in Iran as long as you don’t tell anyone (the authorities had recently decided to hang the man’s partner from a lamppost) — and should simply not be treated with implicit confidence in abilities that they don’t demonstrate.

You certainly don’t need to throw the baby of the Human Rights Act out with the bathwater of the Daily Mail.

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The new rage – heckling at Question Time

Here’s a question – in the olden days, when everyone was busy with spending their oodles of credit and figured that MPs were dirty but hey, we’re all rich together, did anyone heckle Question Time? I’m not the show’s biggest fan or most avid watcher but I can’t remember it happening nearly as often (every week) as it has been recently.  I think it, most clearly this week from Birmingham where a lot of the audience were forced to disclose job links to the car industry, shows that there is a serious lack of opportunities for angry, potentially unemployed people to shout at MPs from the comfort of a warm TV studio. Flippant phrasing? Yes. A gap in the current market? Absolutely, and an important one.

The format of Question Time is great for calmer situations – you have a panel of professional politicians and other speaking heads who sit in front of an audience who ask questions of them. It’s great if all you have is a vague urge to pick a group of people’s brains on a bit of current affairs but, to reveal some underlying ennui, it’s a bit of an insubstantial program at the base of it all, a great deal of posturing, a bit of slap talk and they all say they hate the BNP if it comes up (well, yeah but doesn’t everyone? Only anonymous people on the street get to like the BNP) but it’s not where work gets done. It’s also about the only one that people are invited into. Paxman et al don’t interview in front of a studio audience, certainly not one that can ask questions, and politicians are hard enough to get a hold of even before they’re elevated into positions of extra power. The fabled “MP’s surgery” is a fairly rare event at the best of times and Ministers (the kind of people you want to be able to get a hold of, even just to give them a good shake) may get a regular common or garden MP from a neighbouring constituency to do their surgeries for them, because they’re busy Ministering.

Heckling is a sign of the emotion that’s running through the citizenry. It’s also shockingly out of place in a show like Question Time for a fairly good reason – you can’t actually do much when a member of the audience is shouting out. It’s why stand up comedians have to deal with hecklers quickly and effectively to continue with their set. It’s why there’s a Speaker in the House of Commons. If people are shouting out it means that other people, who are waiting their turn patiently, can’t be heard. It’s rude and it spoils things for other people. That’s the huge, huge downside. The problem is that there’s no other obvious place for people to do this. There needs to be a greater level of public integration with the process – there’s no end of ways to talk to a politician if you’re a lobbyist or retain the services of one or, heaven forbid, you’re a politician yourself but it’s a bit of a black art if you’re not in the right circle. This is really something that needs addressed. I’ve been very impressed with the “They Work For You” site which basically aims to provide a connection between voter and MPs to show what they’re doing with their weekdays and to generally make the whole thing quite convenient, I’ve actually got an email alert set up for whenever Lord Hope of Craighead speaks(1), basically just because you can do that.

This is the sort of thing that’s needed for the current situation – a nice, convenient and personalised route to talk to the elected representatives that are nominally acting on your behalf but are apparently more likely to be huddled under their desk in their second home hoping their moat can keep the Daily Telegraph away.  Routes do exist, but are they well publicised?

The truly hard bitten cynic in me wonders if people who shout out on TV are shouting out… on TV in the same way that, in a period of decreasing church attendance, Songs of Praise always seems to find the really full one every week and in that case, pointing them to surgeries and phone numbers and addresses and other means of meeting and talking to a real politician in a quieter setting won’t actually appeal to them because it’s more effective but it’s not TV but that’s just celebrity aspiration gone mad and I hope that’s not what’s lead to this rise in shouting on Question Time.

(1) Only when he speaks in the House of Lords, obviously.  Not in general.