Friday, 29 June 2012

Extradition treaty with the US shows nature of special relationship

There has been growing resistance over recent years to the unjust extradition treaty agreed between the British and US governments.

For many the terms of the treaty reflect the very one-sided nature of the mythical special relationship between the two countries. On the one side there is the junior partner, Britain, which has to provide prima facie evidence to the US authorities of probable cause if it wants to secure an extradition to the UK. No US citizen has ever been extradited to the UK under the treaty for crimes committed when in the US.

On the other side, sits the senior partner the US, which if it wants a UK citizen for a crime, has only to put forward a claim of alleged wrongdoings. The test is reasonable suspicion. This claim is not tested in the courts and does not require prima facie evidence to back it up.

This arrangement was enacted in 2003 in the era of post 9/11 hysteria raging on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK case, the treaty was never debated in Parliament, instead being passed by an Order in Council.

There are four notable cases at present, where all of the accused argue that if they have a case to answer it should be in the UK before a British court because it is here that the alleged crimes were committed.

The four cases concern Richard O’Dwyer, Gary McKinnon, Baber Ahmad and Talha Ahsan.

Mr O’Dwyer faces up to 10 years in a high-security US prison for alleged copyright violations after setting up in 2007, a search engine linking to sites where users could watch and occasionally download TV shows online.

Mr McKinnon, who suffers from Aspergers Syndrome, has been fighting extradition to the US for 10 years over computer hacking charges relating to US defence department and Nasa. He was allegedly looking for information on UFOs. “Gary McKinnon has been hung out to dry by a British government desperate to appease its American counterparts," said Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg while in opposition. "Gary McKinnon is a vulnerable young man and I see no compassion in sending him thousands of miles away from his home and loved ones to stand trial. If he has questions to answer, there is a clear argument to be made that he should answer them in a British court," said David Cameron, prior to becoming Prime Minister.

Baber Ahmad has been held in custody since 2004, pending extradition to the US regarding charges relating to websites operated relating to Chechen and Afghan insurgents. The server was based in the US. A petition signed by over 140,000 people calling for him to be tried for the alleged offences in the UK has been given to the government.

Another Aspergers syndrome sufferer Talha Ahsan is similarly accused of terrorism related to the same website operation as Mr Ahmad. He has never been arrested or questioned by British police. He has though been imprisoned for six years pending an extradition decision.

The European Court of Human Rights recently approved the extradition of Mr Ahmad and Mr Ahsan, asserting that their human rights would not be infringed.

Others are further down the line such as Kent businessman Christopher Tappin, who was extradited to the US in February relating to allegations of selling batteries to Iran that could be used in weapons. He was bailed to his US lawyer’s address in April.

There have been a number of Parliamentary reports criticising the extradition treaty. Last year, the Joint Committee on Human Rights called for reform that would see a British judge able to refuse extradition where the offence occurred wholly or largely in the UK. They also wanted extradition denied where the UK police and prosecution authorities have decided not to charge or prosecute the individual on the same evidence relied on by the US authorities.

In March, the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Committee called for the extradition treaty to be amended so that the same test applies in both countries. It also called for a judge to be allowed to decide that a person be tried in the UK in cases where both countries have jurisdiction.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: "Evidence to the committee has shown that the current arrangements do not protect the rights of British citizens.The government must remedy this immediately."

The Coalition Government set up a review of the treaty under Lord Justice Scott Baker but he reported last year that the treaty was balanced. The evidence presented to the inquiry has not been published.

The leaders of the Coalition Government have failed to be as strident in their criticisms of the treaty as they were when sitting on the opposition benches. Some of this is thought to be due to pressure being exerted by the US over other matters relating to co-operation between the two countries. David Cameron has though brought up the McKinnon case with US President Barack Obama.

There is much to be done if the clear injustice of this one sided treaty are to be righted. Pressure it would seem is building on the government to act on the extradition treaty, what remains to be seen is whether it is prepared to stand up to the senior partner in the very special relationship.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Let's have some balance in covering that handshake

Why when the Queen shook hands with Martin McGuiness did the plethora of media outlets feel the need to label Mr McGuiness as being a former IRA commander? Surely in the interests of balance the Queen should have been given a similar military label, afterall she has many to choose from..Colonel in Chief of the Irish Guards, Colonel in Chief of the Grenadier or Coldstream Guards? Or maybe just the nominal head of the British armed forces?

Friday, 22 June 2012

Time to expose assault on workers rights

The use of the deficit as an excuse to attack worker’s rights has gathered pace over recent weeks.
First, there were the proposals put forward by Conservative Party supporting venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft suggesting it be made easier to sack people. He also called for a watering down of the TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations that enable employees to take their existing terms of employment over to a new employer when work is transferred.

The suggestions in the Beecroft report brought a rebuttal from the Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable. Some name calling then followed with Cable being labeled “a socialist” by Beecroft, something that probably did him no harm with his own party, which grows increasingly uneasy in Coalition with the Conservatives.

Yet Beecroft was really only the latest audacious bid by business to make the best out of a good crisis. Ever since the Coalition Government came to power the Confederation of British Industry has been lobbying away to get workers’ rights reduced. And they have been successful.

Cable’s department has already overseen the extension of the period required before a worker can go to tribunal over unfair dismissal from one year to two years. Prohibitive fees are also to be charged to further dissuade workers going to tribunal.

Employment minister Chris Grayling has been overseeing a cutting of health and safety laws. This again is justified on the need to become more competitive. If a bad employer is able to put a worker’s life at risk without fear of punishment then he or she will take more risks and can employ more workers.

On the streets, there have been ample examples of this regressive approach in action. There was the use of work experience to effectively provide retailers with free labour at the tax payers’ expense. This involved individuals on benefits doing work experience with the likes of Tesco. If they pulled out then benefits would be cut. This policy quickly unraveled when the companies taking part, notably Tesco, began to withdraw. It was not good corporate profile in this day and age to be using, as it was portrayed by campaigners, slave labour.

Then came the Diamond Jubilee celebrations when a private company working for government brought in jobseekers to work unpaid as stewards. The line being pushed here – which has plenty of resonation in the Beecroft report – that workers should be grateful to work at all, being paid being increasingly seen as a bonus, not a right.

Incidentally, at time of such austerity, why did no one seem to question the wisdom of spending £3 billion on the Jubilee celebrations?

The attack on working people continues apace, with the public sector singled out for particular attention. Supported by its legion of right wing friends in the media the government is able to attack the basic rights of working people from doctors to teachers and police. The work that these people do comes under scrutiny in a way never evident when the subject of bankers enters the lexicon.

The unrelenting narrative, seen most recently when doctors took the decision to strike over their pensions, is that of the race to the bottom. So it is not a case of looking at the terms and conditions of public sector workers and saying all workers should be brought up to these levels but of dragging those on better deals down to the worst on the street. This is not the way forward.

The argument being put forward to further restructure capitalism so that the workers can do even longer for less is that of competitiveness. The labour market must be more flexible, so employers can sack and generally exploit workers more easily.

A look at the situation in Germany, where workers have greater protection and the market is far more regulated, tends to shatter this illusion. Germany has far higher productivity levels than the UK. There is no evidence that suggests making it easier to sack people will create jobs. Indeed, even the sacred small businessman so often quoted as the saviour of the British economy says that employment protection makes no difference; it is the refusal of the banks to lend to them that is really holding back growth.

Given the onslaught it has been good to see the TUC’s launch its Employee Rights Stop Employment Wrongs. This campaign draws attention to the efforts of the government to turn back the clock on employment rights. It provides a rallying point for a fight back that will culminate in a rally in the autumn against the government’s approach. It must also be hoped that the Labour Party's policy review picks up on some of the TUC's ideas for an alternative more just way to build the economy in the future.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Will the real Paul Donovan please stand up?

It all began with a letter last August from the organisers of the Sandford St Martin Awards, asking would I chair the judges for the broadcast section for 2012?

The annual awards run by the Sandford St Martin Trust are for excellence in religious broadcasting. The awards ceremony was to be at Lambeth Palace.

My initial reaction was, “have you got the right Paul Donovan?”

I have known for many years that there are two of us. Our paths have wandered near and far without ever actually crossing. I’ve received his cheques, he’s received mine.

He specialises in media, having worked for the Daily Mail and Sunday Times where he still writes a column.

I have written quite a lot of material on media for the Guardian, Independent, the Press Gazette, British Journalism Review and the Church press. I’ve worked for the unions and Tribune.

The Sandford St Martin awards organiser asked if I could send over a biography which I did. The response came, “you are definitely the Paul Donovan we’re after.”

That was a relief.

The doubts though did linger a little, not least when at the meal after the day of judgement, a fellow judge asked when the next edition of the radio companion was coming out – I stared blankly before coming up with the standard: “I think you’ve got the wrong Paul Donovan.”

These comments have become commonplace over the years.

“My mother loved your book on the Today programme,” said one journalist. I read your column in the Sunday Times. These were all give always relating to mistaken identity.

Over the years, it has never really bothered me, the other Paul has had a very successful career writing for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and many others. It wasn’t like being called Boris Johnson, Kelvin McKenzie or Richard Littlejohn, which would have caused a real problem.

The work of the other Paul offered a chance most the time to bask in reflective glory.

Dopplegangers among journalists though are not that uncommon. There are the Duncan Campbells, one works for the Guardian and is married to Julie Christie. The other used to work for the New Statesman and was noted for his investigative work on the espionage world. There was room for overlap in that doppleganging partnership as well, given that the Guardian’s Duncan worked in a not dissimilar area as crime correspondent for the paper for many years. The two did both turn up to interview the same person on one occasion.

Writer and former publicity man for Sinn Fein Danny Morrison is another with a doppelganger. He recalls receiving a £400 cheque from the BBC. “I telephoned the payments department in London to explain that a mistake had been made but the first thing the woman at the other end asked was, “Is it not enough?” said Mr Morrison. “I explained to her that it was more than enough and that while I was certainly me I was not the Danny Morrison and former New Zealand cricketer who was being paid for commenting on the England tour of the antipodes. But what a surprise the other Danny Morrison was having that morning when he opened his mail and received a BBC cheque for £40 for taking part in a documentary about drug pushers and informers! “

There are certainly more dopplegangers around than you realise. Anyway to return to the Sandford St Martin awards. All went well, the awards presented, speech delivered etc.

Then relaxing afterwards, who should arrive but the other Paul Donovan. After all these years. We swapped stories of cheques and mistaken identity. He was assailed by nuns on one occasion, who thought he was the Paul Donovan who writes for the Catholic press.

On another occasion he had been asked about something he wrote attacking the Murdoch press for whom he writes.

All in all though it was great to at last meet the other Paul. A thoroughly decent person, who has been in journalism for many years and carved out an excellent career.

The one lingering thought that remains though from that night was why did the Sandford St Martin people invite two Paul Donovans? I know you can never get too many and I'm sure they got the right one.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Sam Hallam case proves miscarriages of justice as prevalent as ever

What is the legacy of the Birmingham Six and those other notorious miscarriages of justice from the 1970s?

Many were struck recently by the number of past Irish victims of miscarriages of justice involved in the campaign to free 24 year old east Londoner Sam Hallam.

Hallam was cleared by the court of appeal after serving seven years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

The campaign included Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four, Paddy Hill, Nora and Breda Power (wife and daughter of Billy Power of the Birmingham Six), and Annie, Vincent and Patrick Maguire (

The campaign to free Hallam was run by Paul May, who previously chaired the Birmingham Six campaign.

It has been truly remarkable to note just how many other wrongly convicted people have eventually been set free as a result partly of the efforts of those who had already suffered a similar fate.

Billy Power of the Birmingham Six has been a major force in helping clear wrongly convicted prisoners. When he came out in 1991, Billy told of two young Sri Lankan men he had got to know in Wormwood Scrubs, Prem Sivalingham and Sam Kulasingham, who he believed were innocent.

Paul May and a number of other people involved with the Birmingham Six appeal became involved in a campaign for the East Ham Two. Gareth Peirce was the solicitor. Prem and Sam were cleared by the Court of Appeal in 1994.

Billy Power also campaigned for the release of fellow Irishman Frank Johnson. He was cleared of murder in 2002, some 25 years after being convicted. Sadly, Frank died in 2008.

Paddy Hill also of the Birmingham Six has ofcourse been a redoubtable fighter for justice over the past two decades. He set up the excellent Miscarriage of Justice Organisation (MOJO) that has helped clear many innocent prisoners.

Most recently Paddy signed a petition asking for a new look to be taken into who did the original Birmingham pub bombings.

As well as the direct involvement of people involved in miscarriages of justice in helping others, another legacy of the notorious cases of the 1970s was the setting up of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).

This was established in the mid-1990s, taking over the role of the Home Office in deciding whether cases should be referred back to the Court of Appeal. Some 320 of the 480 cases referred by the CCRC to the Court of Appeal over the past 15 years have resulted in successful appeals. The CCRC deals with around 1,000 cases a year.

There is though criticism of the CCRC. Chair of Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence Bruce Kent describes the CCRC as “a monumental obstacle.” He claims that for every Sam Hallam cleared there are another four innocent prisoners left inside.

May though leaps to the defence of the CCRC which he says was exemplary in the way that it dealt with the Hallam case. May blames the previous Labour Government for many of the innocent people who reside in prison today. “New Labour seemed to hate innocent prisoners,” said May, quoting how year on year it cut the budget of the CCRC, so that it now has two thirds of the resources - £7 million - it had five years ago to investigate suspect cases.

There is no doubt more that the CCRC could be doing to free the innocent but this should not take away from those instances where it has played an important role in getting many individuals cleared of crimes which they did not commit.

There are still many innocent people in prison. MOJO once estimated it could be 1 per cent of the prison population. Given that the prison population now stands at over 87,000 this would mean today there are probably at least 850 innocent prisoners inside.

Given the efforts of some in government to slow down the process of review, by the reduction of funding, that number could be even greater.

This is a double injustice, keeping the innocent in prison, whilst those who really did the crime remain free on the outside. It is also an incredible waste of money for the tax payer.

The concern today is that despite some steps forward the situation for the innocent person in prison, who lacks a campaign of support and good legal team the chances of getting cleared remain as thin as they did all those years ago when the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four were first convicted.

The reaction, that the clearance of Sam Hallam, brought in the media was a welcome sign. Back in the days of the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six and Bridgewater Four, there was great media interest in miscarriages of justice. There were TV programmes like the BBCs Rough Justice devoted to the subject. The newspapers genuinely campaigned on a number of cases. However, this interest seemed to then die off.

The Hallam case seems to have revived that interest, with a realisation that miscarriages of justice are not the subject of yesteryear. The case proves, neither the police nor Crown Prosecution Service seems to have got any better at not putting away the innocent.

It must be hoped that now there will be a reawakening as to just how many innocent people remain in prison. There needs to be more funding for the CCRC and a serious look at how the police and CPS operate. And if any reminder were needed how important it is not to incarcerate the innocent then it must surely be that for every innocent person locked up there is a guilty one walking free.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Church must do better on industrial relations front

The news of planned redundancies in Shrewsbury diocese has caused much consternation.

The matter seems to have been clumsily handled with the news leaking out that the diocese planned to make redundant the positions of justice, peace and social responsibility, youth and marriage and family life workers.

Matters were made worse when it appeared that the trustees who opposed the decision were replaced by others who voted in favour.

The redundancies were justified on the basis of the economic climate. Shrewsbury Diocese has an income of £13.15 million with expenditure of £13.1 million.

The decision to make the redundancies seems a strange one. Joan Sharples, the justice, peace and social responsibility worker earns around £20,000 for a four day week. Hardly a big saving.

There are those though who believe that there is a general move across the country to cut justice and peace workers. Call it paranoia but there is a growing belief in justice and peace circles that there are those in the hierarchy that want to replace these workers with the Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN).

Prior to the announcement in Shrewsbury, Salford lost its J&P worker and embraced CSAN. Though, by way of contrast, Nottingham diocese has just appointed a new worker.

At present there are 12 J&P workers (including Shrewsbury) in the 22 diocese, many part time. It would not be difficult to squeeze out these positions, effectively replacing the J&P worker with CSAN. Many no doubt would say, what is the matter with that? Maybe there needs to be a new model for doing social justice work.

This may well be true but it must be done in conjunction with the existing network. The concern of those in justice and peace is that a top down CSAN structure will concern itself in the main with charity more than justice. This though remains to be seen.

There does seem to be a growing relationship between those in CSAN and NJPN, so it must be hoped that the two can work together in harmony moving forward.

The wider point here though is dignity of work. At the NJPN annual conference last July, the focus was on justice in the workplace. The dignity of work as laid out in the social justice teachings of the Church from Rerum Novarum (1891) through to Justice in the World (1971) and beyond.

There was discussion of the need to be a member of a trade union and the positive Church teachings on this subject.

There were concerns raised about the way those who work for the Church have been treated.

One contributor Dr Rosemary Power told how bullying was “a major problem” in the Church. She claimed people were being subjected to constant criticism, deliberately overworked, verbally attacked in public and having gossip spread about them.

There is also the position of the priests and nuns, who seem to have hardly any basic labour rights. There is a lack of pension provision and the relationship between bishop and priest is a wholly one sided one, where the priest in many cases is a totally powerless party.

The Church has ofcourse made strides to improve the lot of its workers, signing up to the living wage campaign. But even here, the Church is often working toward paying the living wage rather than actually doing it.

If the Church is to really live up to the demands of its own social teachings on dignity in the workplace, then it should be an exemplary employer. All of those employed, clergy and laity should have full employment rights. They should be members of trade unions in order to ensure that these rights are upheld.

Indeed, the Church should go further. Making people redundant, whatever the organisation or cause marks a failure of management. An inadequacy to manage resources properly. It would not be too ambitious to suggest that no Church organisation should make its staff compulsorily redundant.

There is much to consider on the Church industrial relations front. There are deficiencies, with much required to put this right. The goal should be for the Church to become a model employer, applying the spirit as well as the letter of the social teachings to its daily practice. This would be an admirable goal to set moving forward.