Wednesday, February 09, 2011

a right nonsense

Even the European Court of Human Rights has the right to get it right and they have got it right. They have considered a claim by our old fiend Abu Hamza that, when he was convicted in 2006 of inciting murder and racial hatred it breached his article 6 right to a fair trial because, so his argument goes, the jury would have been prejudiced against him by the adverse publicity he received. A bad press can influence to a degree some jurors but, generally, the aggregate outcome of 12 viewpoints is robust enough to narrow judgement down to the evidence alone. It is doubtful that being called a global terrorist by George W would have carried much weight anyway.

Passing through the irony of Mr Hamza reacting against the possible existence of prejudice, an attitude that underscored much if not all of the rantings that gave rise to his arrest and charges in the first place, his lack of faith in the objectivity of juries and the criminal justice system in this country seems to conflict with his previous and successful fight to remain British.

Another limb of his complaint was that the speeches that caused his arrest were given a long time ago and the context in which they were spoken would, by the time of trial, have been lost. In other words, what he said at the time was perfectly acceptable political and religious rhetoric but its meaning has been distorted over the passages of time. Come off it. Firstly, it wasn’t that long ago and many cases can take years to come to court. Secondly, preaching to followers that it is their obligation to kill non-believers doesn’t depend on context. It’s straightforward incitement to murder no matter when, where, how or why the remarks were made.

So the ECHR has rejected his spurious claims, as it should, concluding that they were manifestly ill founded. But having had them rejected at the trial and later at the court of appeal in the UK, there should not have been further recourse. We can manage human rights arguments ourselves with objectivity and don’t need the ECHR nanny to tell us whether we got it right or not. We need to focus on our judicial processes and improve them until we are confident they wil always reach complete fairness. The very existence of the ECHR is a disincentive to do that. In this case particularly it was not difficult to see that the claims were entirely fatuous; human rights must not include the right to try and pervert justice.

The futility of the appeal is exacerbated by the fact that even if the ECHR had perversely decided that there was not a fair trial, it was five years ago and his seven year sentence has been served. He remains in prison whilst the US tries to extradite him (not easy) where he may face another conviction (quite easy). The ECHR is yet to rule on the extradition. If it does go ahead then Mr Hamza may face a much worse confinement than he currently experiences in Belmarsh.



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