Friday, 27 May 2016

Insulated From Challenge

The case of Tony Taylor should be of real concern to everyone with an interest in justice. Tony Taylor is a Republican prisoner from Derry who has been sent to Maghaberry prison on the orders of the British Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers. Ms. Villiers who has no mandate in the north of Ireland revoked Tony's release licence in March of this year when Tony was arrested in full view of his family whilst on a shopping trip by armed PSNI officers who surrounded the family car.

The decision to return Tony Taylor to prison is not based on a new conviction which has been proved beyond reasonable doubt by a competent legal authority. This decision has been made by Northern Ireland Office, the British Secretary of State, the NI Parole Commission and all on the strength of alleged MI5 intelligence. Within these unaccountable structures secret evidence is produced in a closed room during what is known as Closed Material Proceedings. In these cases the state that makes the decision to detain you appoints a ‘Special Advocate’ to represent you. However the advocate who has been appointed as your representative cannot discuss the alleged evidence with you. What he or she can do is give your legal team a 'gist' of what is being alleged, which needless to say is insufficient in terms of building a robust legal defence. The role of the special advocate was described by the late British Law Lord, Lord Bingham as being akin to ‘taking blind shots at a hidden target’.

A core principle within the justice system is to know the case against you so as to have the opportunity to build a defence in respect of that case. Closed Material Proceedings (secret evidence) remove this basic right. These procedures may meet the minimum standards required by article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights but they are not and cannot be objectively fair as has been acknowledged by senior members of the British Judiciary.

In the case of Al Rawi and others v The Security Service, Supreme Court Justice Lord Kerr had this to say in respect of Closed Material proceedings:
The central fallacy of the argument… lies in the unspoken assumption that, because the judge sees everything, he is bound to be in a better position to reach a fair result. That assumption is misplaced. To be truly valuable, evidence must be capable of withstanding challenge. I go further. Evidence which has been insulated from challenge may positively mislead.’ In the above case the government argued that they had the right to hold civil trials in secret, despite no law permitting this. The UK Supreme Court threw the case out, with Lord Kerr further stating that the“right to be informed of the case made against you is not merely a feature of the adversarial system of trial, it is an elementary and essential prerequisite of fairness.” Despite this Closed Material Procedures were later introduced in UK Civil Courts in 2013 via the Justice and Security Act.

With Lord Kerr's comments in mind we must question the use of Closed Material Proceedings and whether or not they are really in the interest of national security or if they are a way of covering over information the government don't want disclosed. This was witnessed in the case of Binyam Mohamed. Binyam Mohamed from Ethiopia who was granted refugee status in Britain in 1994 was later detained in Pakistan in 2002 on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity. Following this he was taken to Morocco and Afghanistan. Here he was subjected to torturous treatment at the hands of his US captors before being sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2004.

During his trial Mr Mohamed said that MI5 was complicit in his torture as they could have intervened but instead chose to help his interrogators by supplying questions for them to ask. In this case the government attempted to cover information which the High Court insisted ‘could never properly be described in a democracy as a "secret" or an "intelligence secret" or a "summary of classified intelligence"’. It was later found that the paragraphs that had been kept hidden contained ‘admissions of what officials of the US did to BM during his detention in Pakistan’. In this case there was an attempt to use the national security card as a veil of secrecy as opposed to being a mechanism to protect the public. This is the same national security card being used in the case of Tony Taylor and the same card which will no doubt  hinder attempts to deal with the North's murky past through new proposed mechanisms outlined in the now redundant Stormont House Agreement.

In a 100 page report compiled by the Committee for the Administration for Justice in 2012 the following points were raised in relation to MI5's role in the north: “MI5 – secret, unreformed and unaccountable – is now running one of the most sensitive areas of policing”. The report went on to stress that “this is a disaster waiting to happen to confidence in the rule of law and our peace settlement”. With this and the role of M15 in the above case of Binyam Mohamed how are people expected to have any faith in policing when an organisation described as being opaque and dangerously unaccountable play a prominent role in policing albeit covertly?

When you consider the case of Binyam Mohamed you have to wonder if the alleged intelligence used to incarcerate Tony Taylor is in the interest of national security or if it's been kept behind closed doors because it won't stand up to scrutiny. Moreover I would question if the framework used in Tony Taylor's case and in other cases involving closed material proceedings is being abused to curtail the lawful political activity of ex-prisoners such as Tony Taylor with the information used to hold Tony being insulated from challenge.

Tony Taylor's situation is reminiscent of that of Lurgan man Martin Corey who was incarcerated in Maghaberry in similar circumstances. Corey was released four years later into internal exile in that he could not return to his own home despite never being charged with any crime. If a person has a case to answer then they should be given the opportunity to do so as anything else amounts to internment without trial irrespective of how the state tries to sell it.

To play your part in helping address the treatment of Tony Taylor I would ask that people register their concerns in writing with the relevant authorities and with the press outlets that publish public letters. I would also ask that you write to your local human rights groups, trade union groups and elected representatives to have them raise this case on every platform available to them. Tony's incarceration demonstrates a blatant abuse of power, scant regard for basic human rights and a complete disregard for the fundamental principles of justice.

There are elected representatives who think that raising Tony's case in Stormont is a pointless exercise with this situation falling under the remit of the Northern Ireland Office. For MLA's of this opinion I would urge you to rethink this with every injustice and human rights abuse worldwide deserving of a public platform. Retired SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey raised issues similar to that of Tony Taylor's. His input alone helped attract press attention and in doing so elevated the profile of each case he raised.

The higher the public profile the more pressure can be applied to those in a position to release Tony Taylor.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Democracy 3410 Rumour Mongers 0

With the election now over I have had time to reflect on events, but before I relay my thoughts let me begin by congratulating each of the candidates elected to the assembly. Differences aside, I welcome that there will be at least three MLA's on the hill to administer reality medicine to those clearly delusional on a number of fronts. After all 18 years after the GFA we have had multiple agreements, multiple disagreements, and little sign of progress or maturity.

The candidate I supported in the election Dr Anne McCloskey didn't get elected THIS TIME but she did extremely well receiving 3410 first preference votes. Dr Anne received more first preference votes than two former and one sitting MLA. The sitting MLA Raymond McCartney later had his vote topped up via the proportional representation system. This system in the words of comedian Jake O'Kane is a 'highly complex mathematical equation designed to get as many undesirables elected as possible'. Having witnessed the out-workings of the PR system first hand I feel Jake has a point with this system more beneficial to the larger parties than to anyone else.

I have to say I am so proud of the people in Foyle and in the West Belfast constituency who opened a can of Whoop-Ass on the main political parties in this election. A factor that cannot be overlooked in this shift is that both areas are recorded to have the highest unemployment and child poverty rates in the north. In the Hume Heartland of Foyle the SDLP's Gerard Diver lost his seat to People Before Profit's Eamonn McCann and Gerry Carroll topped the poll in the Adams homeland of West Belfast taking a Sinn Fein seat.

In the Foyle constituency over 40% of those eligible to vote declined the privilege whilst an approximate 20% voted for alternative candidates. If I were to apply the logic continually applied by the main Stormont party representatives then I'd have to say that dissidents are on the rise in Derry, with anyone seen to be going against the status quo branded a dissident. In recent years we have had dissident journalists, dissident lollipop men and now doctors. On the upside, at least something's on the rise in Derry outside of empty promises, poverty and discrimination.

A report published by the Detail on April 27th showed that the last assembly failed to fulfill many of their targets laid down in the programme for government. Amongst these failures was the failure to fulfill the statutory commitment to reduce child poverty as well as the failure to spend a special £80million fund for deprived communities. These factors are proof that addressing poverty was low on the list of priorities. I would expect that high on the agenda for those newly elected would be the implementation of a strategy to address the growing poverty crisis in the north. However I don't envy this task with welfare reform just around the corner as has been shown through a TV advertisement aired just days after the election. For the record welfare reform is a more sanitised way of describing welfare budgetary cuts which are to be imposed on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

For my own part in the election I can honestly say I am proud to have played a part in Dr Anne McCloskey's campaign. This period introduced me to new and fantastic people and as well as this it has opened my eyes to the lengths some people will go to, to tarnish a person's reputation and campaign. When it became clear that Eamonn McCann would take a seat in Foyle the rumour mongers who had surprisingly left him alone for the duration of the election immediately turned on him suggesting that he would be handing his seat over to a fellow party member in less than one year. The idea that a man who has contested elections since 1969 would hand his first seat over is as absurd as the rumour that Dr Anne would have been handing hers over to a number of people had she have been elected. I would hope that this election will have shown those meting out dirty propaganda that it can have an adverse effect with people generally quick to see through this type of behavior.

End result: Democracy 3410/4227, Rumour Mongers 0.

Another thing that surprised me in this election was the lack of female candidates with only ¼ of those standing women. With Sinn Fein's Maeve McLaughlin having lost her seat in the Foyle constituency there is no female representative. The majority of party candidates just happened to be men, it's not to say there aren't many capable women out there. When you consider the state Derry is in surely the feminine touch wouldn't go amiss.

The lack of independent women in political office needs to change, I for one would hope that Dr Anne is a catalyst and an inspiration to women to make that move. There will be some who would argue that an increase in the numbers of women even in political parties should be encouraged, yet I would disagree. As part of her platform Dr Anne stood for the people not the party and was a voice unimpeded by party diktat.

In contrast when Derry was announced as a runner for the UK city of Culture Maeve McLaughlin former Sinn Fein MLA then a Derry City Councillor upset the normalisation gravy train by saying 'While we are a city of culture there has to be a recognition that we're not part of the UK. "We are not opposing the bid, but we are putting down a marker at this stage and saying we should be exploring, rather than cementing, this relationship.” Shortly after this Maeve was ensconced as a director of the 'Culture Company' to oversee the UK City of Culture. Now I'm not saying I'm right, but then again, what if Maeve just had to toe the Sinn Fein UK City of Culture party line instead of sticking to her guns which seemed to have been quickly decommissioned.

With this in mind give me true independence any day.

Question for 'chip shop paper' troll/bar stool general, how do you get your tank through the door of Peadars?