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Tuesday, May 16, 2006 

Sun-watch: Another day, another distorted editoral.

Tony Blair is right to say the human rights laws need "rebalancing". But it's time for the Prime Minister to stop talking and start acting. Mr Blair is rightly outraged over the catalogue of rapes and murders by thugs who have been set free early from their sentences. And he is surprised that Afghan hijackers cannot be deported. Mr Blair should not be surprised. These scandals did not come out of a clear blue sky. The laws which allow them were enacted by Mr Blair's Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine - in the face of what the PM now calls "common sense". They were backed by his QC wife, Cherie, a human rights lawyer. And they are still defended by his current Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer. But this is not a time for apportioning blame, as the Tories have sought to do, or for political point-scoring. It's too important for that. We need to recognise and admit that mistakes have been made, both by the lawmakers and by those who interpret the laws. And we need to set about putting this scandalous situation right as soon as humanly possible. Mr Blair seems at a loss what to do. We have some suggestions.

First and foremost, he MUST tear up the act enshrining the EU convention in British law. If he is afraid of Brussels, he MUST at least demand opt-outs from its worst clauses. In addition, he MUST abolish rules that set violent criminals free after half their sentences. If, as he says, rogue judges are to blame, he MUST name and shame and - where necessary - suspend them. He MUST end privacy rights for hardened criminals and allow their IDs to be published on the internet. The Prime Minister said yesterday: "The demands of the majority of the law-abiding community have to take precedence." We couldn't have put it better ourselves. There is no higher priority for any government than protecting the public. This legal farce has been going on too long, and Mr Blair's time in Downing Street is finite. He needs to get a grip... And soon.

Firstly, Blair did not say that human rights laws need rebalancing. He said that the debate on civil liberties needed rebalancing. They're not the same thing. Blair was also not surprised that the Afghan "terrorists" could not be deported; what he said was that the ruling was an "abuse of common sense".

After blaming Derry Irvine, Cherie Blair and Charlie Falconer and in previous editorals Labour and Blair, the Sun then decides that it's not time to apportion blame.
(Start apportioning blame immediately or you're fired. Murdoch.) Rebekah Wade then does decide that someone else might be to blame, and it's of course those out of touch old duffers the judges, the same ones that hear all the arguments in court and then make their decision in line with the law, instead of just listening to the juicy bits and obeying the latest Sun editorial. Apparently they should be named and shamed - even though the Judge's name is always given in reports of such cases. Also relevant is the fact that judges cannot hit back or defend themselves, as the Sun well knows. The other solutions to this "legal farce" apparently are to - you've guessed it, rip up the Human Rights Act. If Blair can't do so, he should demand opt-outs from its worst clauses. What clauses would be the worst ones? The right to a fair trial, as guaranteed in article 6? How about freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as guaranteed in article 9? Or could it possibly be article 8, respect to private and family life? After all, as Lord Lester today writes in the Guardian, both the Sun and News of the Screws seem to infringe on the private lives of many people if it makes for a good front-page screamer or if they've shagged some slapper.

The Sun also says that rules letting violent offenders out half-way through their sentences must be stopped. There are no such rules - all the cases are reviewed by the probation panel as and when the time approaches - it is up to them and the prison service whether anyone is released or not. Recent cases have shown that both their training and following up of those released has been poor. This is the fault of the government, but to stop a whole scheme because of a tiny number of mistakes is not the answer, much as keeping everyone in prison until they've served their full time and then dumping them out on the streets without any support is also not the answer. Apparently privacy rights of hardened criminals must be removed, which must be a surprise to almost anyone who is not under 18 who is arrested or charged, as their identities are almost always revealed on the news or in local papers. Recently courts have been given the power to let juries know of the accused's police history, something that also hasn't had problems with being put into law. It's funny that the Sun thinks that hardened criminals should be exposed on the internet, but thinks the opposite when its sister newspaper's star reporter Mahzer Mahmood's photograph, who has procured drugs from dealers to sell to celebrities and paid witnesses to trials which have come of his investigations, is published, as it amounted to a "threat to his life".

Finally then, Bloggerheads managed to obtain a screenshot of the Sun's online poll on whether the Human Rights Act should be scrapped before the results screen was removed. Imagine my shock at why that must have happened:

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