Liberty’s AGM debate the HRA and European arrest warrants. They should be subject to serious debate, not party politics
How much longer will Dominic Grieve be with us?
Given the increasing Eurosceptic rhetoric from his Tory colleagues, one sometimes wonders, how long the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, is going to be with us. He was at it once more on Saturday at the AGM of Liberty, the civil rights campaigning organisation.
He does everything he can, he said, to explain the “benefits” of the Human Rights Act (HRA) and ensure that it was understood.
“It is misrepresented frequently”, he added, with “sensational headlines” in the media. He gave as an example the thoroughly misleading claim that the HRA prevented prisoners from being deprived of pornography.
(The attorney was also reminded how the HRA was wrongly blamed for the fatal hit and run accident which led to the death of that 12 year-old Amy Houston. The driver of the car was an Iraqi Kurd and failed asylum seeker. Her father described in an article for the Guardian how the fact that he was still in the UK was the result of Home Office errors — it did not try to deport him).
The shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, told the AGM that Labour was “completely committed to the Human Rights Act”. Simon Hughes, for the Lib Dems, said there was “no more important issue” over the coming few years than to protect the act.
One other Europe-related issue was the subject of an emergency motion: extradition reform. The motion, passed nem con, noted that “those resident in the UK can be extradited to foreign jurisdictions without a basic case first being made in a UK court”, and that “British judges have been unable to bar extradition on the grounds of ‘forum’ where allegedly activity has taken place in whole, or in substantial part, in the UK”.
The motion also referred to government amendments included in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which removed the home secretary’s obligation to bar extradition where it would breach human rights after legal appeals had been exhausted, and also to clauses in the anti-social behaviour, crime, and policing bill that would remove appeal rights in extradition cases.
To many, the controversy over extradition means the US above all. To others, it means the European arrest warrant.
That warrant is widely praised when British criminals who have escaped are arrested in Spain. It is questioned when it leads to individuals being held for long period in poor conditions in continental jails for relatively trivial offences.
But the warrant is caught up in a wholly party political dispute — with the Tory Eurosceptic right wanting to abandon it as part of the series of EU “opt outs”, and the Lib Dems eager to retain it.
The European arrest warrant — which requires a member state to transfer its citizens without trial where there are claims that a crime has been committed elsewhere in the EU — should be the subject of a serious debate, uncluttered by partisan dogma.