In its Annual Report 2007, covering events of 2006, Amnesty International (AI) is scathing about the UK.
It says: ‘The government continued to erode fundamental human rights, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, including by persisting with attempts to undermine the ban on torture at home and abroad, and by seeking to enact legislation inconsistent with fundamental human rights.’
On the ‘War on terror’, the report continues: ‘The Terrorism Act 2006, the fourth piece of legislation passed since 2000 with the stated aim of countering terrorism, became law in March.
‘Some of its provisions were inconsistent with fundamental human rights.
‘It created new offences, including “encouragement of terrorism”, whose scope significantly exceeded international law provisions that the government claimed it would implement.
‘The Act also extended the maximum period of police detention without charge from 14 to 28 days for people held under terrorism legislation.
‘Instead of bringing people to justice, the authorities continued to seek to deport individuals they asserted posed a threat to “national security”, and to impose “control orders” under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 on others allegedly involved in “terrorism-related activity”.
‘Consequent judicial proceedings were profoundly unfair, denying individuals the right to a fair hearing, including because of heavy reliance on secret hearings in which intelligence information had been withheld from the appellants and their lawyers of choice, as well as a particularly low standard of proof.
‘In August, the Home Secretary lost his appeal against a ruling quashing “control orders” he had made against six foreign nationals.
‘The court held that the obligations imposed on the men amounted to deprivation of liberty and that, in the circumstances, he had made the orders unlawfully.
‘However, the same court allowed his appeal against a ruling that proceedings under the Prevention of Terrorism Act were incompatible with the right to a fair hearing.
‘During the year, charges were brought in connection with alleged breaches of “control orders”. As a result, at least one man was held in custody.
‘However, since his original “control order” had been ruled unlawful, his subsequent detention for alleged breaches of it was also unlawful.’
The report adds: ‘At least eight former UK residents continued to be held at the US detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
• In October, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales refused to order the UK authorities to make representations seeking the return to the UK of Bisher Al Rawi, an Iraqi national and long-term UK resident; Jamil El Banna, a Jordanian national with refugee status in the UK; and Omar Deghayes, a Libyan national also with refugee status in the UK.
• In June the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (the Law Lords) granted immunity to Saudi Arabia and its officials at whose hands four UK citizens alleged they had suffered systematic torture.
‘The UK government intervened in the case in support of the Saudi Arabian government’s argument that it enjoyed state immunity. AI intervened in the case jointly with other non-governmental organisations, arguing that there should be no immunity for torture.
• In November leaked internal official reports revealed that more than 160 prison officers were implicated in allegations of torture of inmates at Wormwood Scrubs Prison that had come to light in the late 1990s.
‘Reportedly, many of the incidents that the authorities had publicly refused to admit, were acknowledged in the reports and some managers had colluded in the abuse by ignoring it. The author of one of the reports allegedly stated that officers implicated in the abuses continued to pose an ongoing threat to inmates.
• In June police officers mounted a massive operation against a perceived terrorist threat that included forced entry into the home of Muhammad Abdul kahar and his family in Forest Gate, London, during which they shot and wounded him.
‘It emerged that the operation was based on erroneous intelligence.
‘In August an investigation concluded that the shot had been fired accidentally and that, in the circumstances, the officer involved had not committed any criminal or disciplinary offence.
• In July the prosecuting authorities announced that no individual police officer would be prosecuted for any criminal offence in connection with the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in London in 2005.
‘Instead, they decided to prosecute the Office of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis under health and safety legislation, a prosecution which, if successful, could result in a financial penalty only.
‘In September the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes was adjourned indefinitely pending completion of ongoing criminal proceedings against the Office of the Commissioner of Police.
‘In December a legal challenge brought by the family of Jean Charles de Menezes against the prosecuting authorities’ decision not to bring criminal charges against any individuals in connection with his killing was dismissed.
• In July the prosecuting authorities announced that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any police officer for any offence in connection with the fatal shooting of Azelle Rodney.
‘In April 2005 the vehicle in which Azelle Rodney was travelling was intercepted by police who shot him in the ensuing operation.
l In December the sister of Christopher Alder, who in 1998 had choked to death on the floor of a police station while handcuffed, won the right to sue the prosecuting authorities for racial discrimination in connection with their handling of the case.
‘In England and Wales alone, the prison population soared to nearly 80,000, among the highest per capita worldwide.
‘Police cells were used as a result of the overcrowding crisis. Among other things, overcrowding continued to be linked to self-harm and self-inflicted deaths, greater risks to the safety of staff and inmates, and detention conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
• In June the report of the public inquiry into the killing of Zahid Mubarek by his cellmate, a known racist, at Feltham Young Offenders Institution in March 2000 was published.
‘Among other things, it found that 186 failings, either institutional or by 19 named individuals, had led to his death, which could have been prevented had appropriate action been taken.
‘The government continued to fail to establish an inquiry into allegations of state collusion in the 1989 killing of prominent human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane.
‘The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland stated that a Finucane inquiry would only be constituted under the Inquiries Act 2005.
‘The Irish government and the US House of Representatives stated that the Act would be incapable of delivering an independent and impartial inquiry into the killing.
‘In December David Wright won his legal challenge against the government’s decision to convert the inquiry into allegations of state collusion in the killing of his son, Billy Wright, into an inquiry constituted under the Inquiries Act 2005.
‘AI intervened jointly with other non-governmental organisations, asserting that the legislation was inadequate to fulfil the requirements of human rights law for such inquiries.
‘On the same grounds, AI had opposed the move in March by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to convert the inquiry into allegations of state collusion in the 1997 killing of Robert Hamill into one constituted under the Inquiries Act 2005.
‘Allegations of collusion between UK security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in many human rights abuses, including bombings at Dublin airport and Dundalk in 1975 and at Castleblayney, County Monaghan, in 1976, were once again raised in an Irish Parliament report in November.
The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 became law in March. It contained measures that could exclude from the protection of the UN Refugee Convention those seeking asylum on grounds of political persecution.
The vast majority of asylum applications were ultimately refused. Tens of thousands of rejected asylum-seekers who had not left the UK, often through no fault of their own, were condemned to live in abject poverty, living on the charity of others.
‘A minority of rejected asylum-seekers received the statutory provision available to those left destitute who faced a temporary barrier to their removal.
‘However, the majority of rejected asylum-seekers refused to apply, or were not eligible, for statutory provisions available to those left destitute.
‘Rejected asylum-seekers were also not allowed to work, were not eligible for free health care in hospitals unless for emergency treatment, and were not allowed to continue with treatment they were already receiving during the asylum process.
‘In September, 32 Iraqi Kurds were forcibly returned to northern Iraq despite concern for their safety there.
‘In December, the government announced that the Independent Police Complaints Commission would be charged with investigating complaints arising from incidents involving immigration officials exercising police-like powers.
‘In July the European Court of Human Rights found that the UK had violated an asylum-seeker’s right to be informed promptly of the reasons for his detention.
‘He had been detained for some 76 hours before his representative had been informed of the reasons for his detention.’