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Conservative Candidate Accused of Misusing Magistrate Title AGAIN as He Campaigns for Re-Election

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/06/2024 - 12:31am in

A Conservative parliamentary candidate previously rapped by a regulator for using his magistrate's title on political materials has once again been caught in the again - this time campaign for re-election.

A leaflet from former Lincoln Conservative MP Karl McCartney sent to constituents at the end of May, uses his title as a magistrate, "JP" - or Justice of the Peace. 

The MP has already been reprimanded over the same tactics twice before, according to the Judicial Conduct Investigation Office, which in 2021 suggested he had abused the title of his impartial office for party political gain.

Prof Colin Talbot, emeritus professor of government at the University of Manchester, said it was inappropriate to use the Justice of the Peace title on party mailouts: “It is very important in our system of Government to keep politics and justice as separate as possible, to avoid even the perception of political bias in judicial decisions. 

"That is why it’s best to avoid using the Justice of the Peace title in party political material.” 

One of the leaflets sent to Lincoln residents

A spokesperson for the official Judicial Office, which exists to "promote and safeguard judicial independence to maintain confidence in the rule of law," told Byline Times: “The Guide to Judicial Conduct advises magistrates that the initials ‘JP’ may be used on private and business letterheads etc in the same way as academic or professional qualifications. They should not be used for the furtherance of trade, professional, business, or political interests.

“There is a statutory process that Conduct Advisory Committees follow In the event of any complaints about magistrates. We cannot comment on conduct matters.” 

Lincoln resident Mark Allen, who received the leaflet, told Byline Times: “The Judicial Conduct Investigation Office gave him a formal warning for referring to his judicial role on two occasions, using his status 'with the appearance of seeking to gain advantage'. 

“I have just received a second letter, again with a questionnaire from Karl McCartney on House of Commons headed paper with JP MP on it.”

The second leaflet, which Mark Allen says he received on 3rd June, also contains the letters “JP” prominently at the top - as well as “MP.” If it was sent after the dissolution of Parliament, the title Member of Parliament would be incorrect, as there are officially no Members of Parliament until after the election on 4th July (only candidates). That is to ensure a level playing field in terms of status when running for office.

An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: “We do not regulate or provide advice on the use of House of Commons stationery by Members of Parliament. Information on the use of House of Commons stationery can be found on the UK Parliament website:”

A spokesperson for Parliament’s Standards Commissioner said they couldn’t do anything until after the election - if Mr McCartney was re-elected. A statement on the Commissioner’s website reads: “From 00:01 on the day of dissolution there are no Members of Parliament (MPs) until after the General Election.

"The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (‘the Commissioner’) cannot investigate complaints about anything that takes place between the start of dissolution and the date of a general election, and he cannot investigate complaints about the conduct of candidates during the election campaign. 

“During the dissolution period, the Commissioner cannot consider complaints about anything that took place before the start of dissolution.” 

Last August, the same Conservative MP’s campaign tactics were branded “appalling” by one of Britain’s most renowned photojournalists after he imitated a shuttered local newspaper to garner votes.

Lincoln Conservative MP Karl McCartney issued a leaflet to residents branded as the ‘Lincoln Chronicle’ – the same name as a weekly newspaper in the seat that was closed 15 years ago, and which many residents remember.

Dr Mike Maloney OBE, one of the UK’s most decorated photographers and a Lincolnite who began his career at the real Lincoln Chronicle in the 1970s, told Byline Times the fake newspaper was “typical of politicians”. He added it represented the idea of “never letting the facts interfere with a good story.”

“It was very, very sad when the Chronicle closed. I started my career there decades ago. At one time it was a great paper,” Dr Maloney said, adding that the decision by the local Conservatives to imitate the defunct paper was “appalling.”  

Lincoln resident Sasha Drennan told Byline Times the party was “at it again” after this site revealed the Conservative Party’s widespread use of fake newspapers to promote their candidates. It seems to be becoming a strategy. 

Karl McCartney did not respond to a request for comment. 

Byline Times is relaunching our VoteWatch project to monitor disinformation, dodgy campaigning, and dark money during the 2024 General Election. Get in touch if you have a tip off or any insights: votewatch24@bylinetimes.com

If you have another political story or tip-off, email josiah@bylinetimes.com.

The Spectacle of Impunity: Phone-Hacking Cover-Up Claims Cross the Atlantic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/05/2024 - 9:43pm in

This article was first published in the June 2024 print edition of Byline Times

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It’s nearly exactly 10 years since I sat in the hushed court 12 of the Old Bailey to hear the jury forewoman read out the verdicts in the eight-month-long phone-hacking trial of Rebekah Brooks, then CEO of News International, on charges of conspiracy to hack phones and pay public officials for stories, and – along with her assistant Cheryl Carter, head of security Mark Hanna, and her husband, Charlie Brooks – charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. All were found not guilty.

The verdict felt momentous.

An estimated £100 million had been spent on the legal teams, police ­investigations, and court costs – more than 70% of that privately by Rupert Murdoch. I’d also been told that, if senior News International executives had been convicted, the police and Crown Prosecution Service were considering ­corporate charges against the company and its ‘controlling mind’. However, all that was swept away by the verdicts.

Minutes later, Brooks’ Deputy Editor at the by then defunct News of the World, and close companion, Andy Coulson, was found guilty of conspiracy to intercept voicemails.

The majority of the other Murdoch journalists in Coulson’s position, with such clear evidence against them, had pleaded guilty before the trial began. But by staying in the trial, Coulson had helped Brooks – the strength of the case against him, made that against her seem ­comparatively weak and more inferential.

Coulson had gone from the News of the World to Downing Street, where he was David Cameron’s head of communications at No 10. Minutes later, the then Prime Minister had to answer questions in the House of Commons from the then Labour Leader Ed Miliband. Cameron said he had given Coulson a “second chance” and regretted it.

It could have been a defining moment.

Boris Johnson, Tony Gallagher, and Rebekah Brooks at the 2020 The Sun Military Awards 2020. Photo: PA

The trial, and the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices, and ethics of the press – launched following the full exposure of the phone-hacking scandal by the Guardian in 2011 – had unleashed a torrent of information about the ‘merry-go-round’ of clandestine social contacts between senior news editors and newspaper proprietors and top politicians: Rupert Murdoch meeting prospective British Prime Ministers as if he were the ultimate power in the land, and then being invited through the back door to Downing Street when they succeeded, as if in benediction.

It was as if a light had suddenly been turned on in a dark room.

We saw Brooks herself partying with Tony Blair and David Blunkett, and ­enjoying ‘country dinners’ and horse-­riding trips with her Oxfordshire ­neighbour David Cameron. We glimpsed the plush interiors of an elite political-media class that manipulated the public through a series of back-door deals and revolving-door appointments.

But then the light turned off and we were in the dark again.

The Restoration

At the time of the phone-hacking trial verdicts in 2014, it would have been fair comment to suggest that, though Rebekah Brooks was found innocent of several criminal charges, she was guilty of being one of the most incompetent editors and CEOs in recent history – somehow not noticing what the lead prosecutor called the “criminal enterprise” ­operating beneath her.

People speculated that she would have to find another career. So it was almost as great a shock that, within a year, Brooks was back in her old job as head of the now-rebranded News UK, and one of the most influential figures in British media.

And that is how the spectacle of ­impunity became embedded in our lives.

Thanks to a decade of dogged and detailed civil litigation since, we now know much more about the things the media wasn’t punished for.

News UK had started claiming that phone-hacking was the product of a ‘rogue reporter’ and then, by shutting the News of the World, suggesting that it was a ‘rogue’ newspaper – and the criminal news-­gathering operation had nothing to do with Murdoch’s flagship daily tabloid The Sun, which Brooks also edited.

This turned out to be bunk.

More than 1,600 privacy cases have been settled by the company, many of them claims against The Sun, and News UK has paid out about £1 billion to date. Nor was ‘unlawful information-gathering’ limited to voicemail interception. Many of the settled claims involve blagging, theft, landline phone-tapping, surveillance, and unlawful access to private medical and financial records.

On the corporate scale, the evidence of systematic cover-up has only increased during the last decade. My live tweets from the Old Bailey were the basis of ­lawyers seeking disclosure about News UK’s ‘email deletion policy’ (clever Murdoch lawyers tried to rename this their ‘email retention policy’) and it now appears, according to a ‘concealment and destruction’ claim, that the company destroyed vital evidence every time it was asked to preserve it. Some 31 million emails were deleted as civil and criminal cases loomed.

The journalist Nick Davies, who first reported the phone-hacking scandal in the Guardian in 2009, has come out of retirement to dig deeper into the new evidence lodged in these civil claims for Prospect magazine, now edited by his former Guardian Editor, Alan Rusbridger. He reports on the concerted cover-up by News UK, and how journalists or investigators who might have blown the whistle were rewarded with jobs, or cash payments, and required to sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements).

Davies reveals that it was not only emails that went missing.

Following Brooks’ arrest in July 2011, 125 items were seized by the police and placed in a secure area at the ­company’s Wapping HQ under the supervision of two Murdoch executives, Simon Greenberg and Will Lewis. When ­detectives returned to complete a detailed search of all the equipment, they ­discovered only 117 items remained. Eight filing cabinets seized from the offices of the Editor and the Managing Editor had been removed. They have never been recovered.

But the sense of lawlessness and ­impunity goes further.

Escalation to Espionage

In an account that sounds more like the actions of the East German Stasi secret police, Davies suggests that News UK continued its unlawful news-gathering even as Parliament was investigating it – and that it was using criminal methods to hack the phones of MPs, not for tittle-­tattle or tabloid sleaze, but for “political and commercial espionage”.

From the payments and phone logs ­disclosed by News UK to the civil ­claimants, Davies reports that News UK “employed numerous private investigators to hack private individuals, and also MPs – including Cabinet ministers”. These criminal methods were used to target politicians of every rank including the Attorney General, Business Secretary, and up to the Chancellor, and Prime Minister.

More than 1,500 suspicious calls from the generic number of Murdoch’s Wapping HQ targeted 16 Liberal Democrat MPs and many MPs from other parties. There were suspicious calls to Dominic Grieve, then Attorney General, when as Director of Public Prosecutions he was considering possible prosecutions against journalists.

Five members of the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee – perceived to be hostile to Murdoch’s commercial interests – received hundreds of “inexplicable” calls.

One MP who was hacked told the High Court that the pattern of behaviour was a “cynical and outrageous attempt to ­subvert the legitimate process of ­parliamentary scrutiny”.

Both as Chancellor and then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown was targeted 24 times from the Wapping “hub”. He is now considering joining the civil ­claimants against News UK and has written to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley requesting a meeting as a precursor to a new “criminal ­investigation” into these allegations of espionage. He is also asking the police to look at the ­corporate cover-up at News UK.

Whether the police will reopen its ­investigations remains unclear. There is a civil trial against News UK scheduled for next year.

In the meantime, this spectacle of ­impunity of the last decade has served as a stern lesson to the entire political-media class: if they can lie and cover-up vehemently and shamelessly enough, they can get away with it.

It’s not just Rebekah Brooks. For many prominent parties in the phone-hacking scandal, it seems to have helped rather than hindered their careers.

Will Lewis, the News Corp ­executive who should have been overseeing the disclosures to the police, was recently elevated to the role of CEO at The Washington Post – the newspaper once famed for exposing Richard Nixon’s Watergate cover-up with the fearless reporting team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Former Sun Editor Tony Gallagher, now Editor of The Times, faces civil claims of ‘unlawful information-­gathering’ for ­allegedly commissioning private ­investigators during his time at the Daily Mail as a senior editor.

So too, does Victoria Newton, now Editor of The Sun.

Piers Morgan, who a judge last year concluded ‘must have known’ about phone-hacking when he was Editor of the Mirror, was given a reported £15 million a year three-year contract by Murdoch as a host on Talk TV. No bad deed goes unrewarded.

And it’s not just the media figures.

The example of impunity embodied by these press luminaries shines out over the entire political landscape and goes a long way to explaining the forces underlying many of the disasters of the last decade.

The Rot Spreads

It is surely no accident that the media figures and newspapers involved in ­covering up the ‘dark arts’ of Fleet Street were key players in the lies, dirty data, and electoral dark arts of the EU Referendum campaign in 2016.

Nearly all of these papers pushed the propaganda and disinformation of the official Vote Leave campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, or its unofficial rival Leave.EU led by Nigel Farage. The Sun even registered itself as a campaigning organisation with the Electoral Commission in its fervent ­support for a leave vote in the referendum.

The owners of the Telegraph, having previously been fined for sharing readership data with the Conservative Party during the 2015 General Election, were invited to meetings with the infamous Cambridge Analytica data harvesting company and Leave.EU.

After David Cameron resigned in the wake of the shock result, his successor Theresa May became the next focus of the emboldened political-media class. She was pressured into dropping the overdue second part of the Leveson Inquiry, into the relationships between journalists and the police, which could only take place after the criminal cases had concluded.

Sunday Times columnist Michael Gove and former Telegraph columnist and Spectator Editor Boris Johnson on the Vote Leave campaign bus in Lancashire, during the 2016 EU Referendum campaign. Photo: PA

Her then Culture Secretary Matt Hancock suggested to the House of Commons that Lord Justice Leveson ­himself did not want part two of the inquiry to go ahead – when in fact he had said no such thing, merely that he could not be the presiding judge.

In 2018, when Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer revealed massive data harvesting and misuse, unlawful electoral overspends by Vote Leave, and a riot of meetings between Russians and Leave.EU, these same newspapers did their best to mock or minimise them.
And so the rot spread from Fleet Street to Westminster, undermining all of the norms of political life, both written and unwritten.

The same political-media class went on to topple May and foist Boris Johnson (who called phone-hacking “left-wing codswallop”) on the country.

They applauded his unlawful prorogation of Parliament (the Mail branded the Supreme Court judges who ruled on it ‘enemies of the people’) and his hard exit from the EU. They lauded his handling of the pandemic as ‘following the ­science’ (when Johnson was in fact resisting it).

And, for two years, they ignored the ­multiple breaches of the Ministerial Code, the conflicts of interests with hedge fund donors, and the billions wasted in crony Covid contracts through a ‘VIP’ lane.

During this time, the newspaper cartel benefited from what Johnson’s former chief advisor Dominic Cummings referred to as “bungs” that were “dressed up as COVID relief” – hundreds of millions of pounds in subsidies from the Government in the form of pandemic adverts and VAT relief, as circulation figures dropped during the early days of the crisis.

The rot has not stopped. The impunity lives on.

When Johnson’s self-serving lies and complete lack of standards became too much, the Mail, Telegraph and The Sun boosted his even worse replacement, Liz Truss, whose short tenure in Downing Street caused a run on gilt-edged securities, a near collapse of pension funds, and a massive hike in interest rates.

But both Johnson and Truss are regularly still heralded as ‘true Conservatives’; their historically bankrupt ideas paraded in the pages of the right-wing papers as worthy of our attention. Their past mistakes and misdemeanours papered-over by a press that has too many mistakes and misdemeanours of its own to know the difference.

Who is really ‘blackmailing’ whom? Who is really the client and who is the provider? Or have media and politics so merged that they have become a single entity, corrupting both representative ­politics and the politics of representation?

As we head towards a general ­election, expect this spectacle of impunity to ­intensify and accelerate. Both politicians and the media are like a couple in a danse macabre, locked in an embrace of ­complicity and guilt they cannot escape.

Until the music stops.

Beyond Contempt, Peter Jukes’ account of the phone-hacking trial, is published by Canbury Press

Julian Assange’s Wife Urges Joe Biden to Drop Pursuit of Husband as he Wins Right to Appeal US Extradition

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/05/2024 - 10:11pm in

Julian Assange on Monday won the right to appeal against extradition to the US, where he faces charges under the Espionage Act, but he today remains behind bars at London's Belmarsh prison where he is expected to spend several months waiting for his next court date.

The WikiLeaks founder was granted leave to appeal the UK’s decision in 2021 to approve his extradition to the United States, where he faces charges for publishing classified military files and diplomatic cables revealing alleged war crimes perpetrated by American military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

A decision was deferred in March with judges ruling that Assange could bring an appeal if the US could not offer a range of human rights-based assurances.

If Assange's next appeal fails, the 52-year-old could take his fight to the UK Supreme Court or seek an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights.

He will remain detained at the Category A men's prison, alongside some of the UK's worst offenders – including Wayne Couzens and Michael Adebolajo – while he awaits an appeal hearing. He has been held at the prison, without trial, for more than five years and is permitted limited contact with his wife, Stella Assange, and their two children. 

Stella Assange addresses her husband's supporters outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, in February. Photo: Ron Fassbender/Alamy

Kristinn Hrafnsson, Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, said after the ruling this week that there was “finally a glimmer of hope” for Assange, the Guardian reported, noting that his lawyers would now decide if they also wanted to press for him to be released on bail. Assange has previously been denied bail on the grounds that he is a flight risk.

Stella Assange called on US President Joe Biden to "do the right thing" and drop the legal pursuit of her husband – something that he might not be able to do after November 2024 if Donald Trump is re-elected.

The human rights lawyer branded the case against her partner "offensive" and, while she was relieved at Monday's decision, questioned "how long can this go on for?"

"Julian needs to be freed,” she said – sharing that their children's memories of their father are all "in the visiting hall of Belmarsh prison".

The Australian was arrested in April 2019 at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he had been staying since 2012, having sought asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden on a rape allegation – announced in August 2010 – that was later dropped. He has been fighting for his freedom ever since.

Simon Crowther, a legal advisor at Amnesty International, said the High Court's decision was a “rare piece of positive news" for Assange and defenders of press freedom, adding that the court had "rightly concluded that, if extradited to the USA, Assange will be at risk of serious abuse, including prolonged solitary confinement, which would violate the prohibition on torture or other ill-treatment”.

The assurances earlier sought were that, if Assange was extradited, the US would not impose the death penalty; that it would allow him to rely on the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects free speech; and that he would not be prejudiced at trial or sentencing because of his nationality.

The Problem With Diplomatic Assurances

The use of diplomatic assurances in extradition cases has long been criticised by human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as there is no guarantee they will be honoured.

A Human Rights Watch report on the issue concludes: “The growing weight of evidence and international expert opinion indicates that diplomatic assurances cannot protect people at risk of torture from such treatment.”  

Rebecca Vincent, director of campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, said: Even if these assurances are respected in practice – and again, there’s no guarantee that they will be – we have serious concerns about the very charges against Julian Assange...noting that the Espionage Act itself lacks a public interest defence so even if these assurances are met, we don’t believe that Julian Assange or anyone accused in this way could have a fair trial.”

Edward Fitzgerald KC, representing Assange at the High Court on Monday, accepted the US’ assurance that he would not face the death penalty if extradited. However, he raised serious concerns about what his client's wife referred to as the US non-assurance’ regarding Assange's First Amendment right to freedom of expression

The US legal team has said that Assange can "raise and seek to rely on" the First Amendment, but has offered no guarantee that he will receive protections under it. US prosecutors have previously claimed that Assange is not protected by the First Amendment as he is not a US citizen.

Fitzgerald argued that “this is plainly an inadequate assurance”, and pointed to previous cases in which US prosecutors have provided clear and unequivocal assurances on similar issues.

This uncertainly regarding Assange’s First Amendment rights underlines the risk that he may face prejudice due to his nationality.

Can the UN and Human Rights Groups Assist Assange? 

In 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Assange had been unlawfully detained in the Ecuadorian Embassy, by the UK and Sweden, and recommended that he be freed and compensated. A number of UN special rapporteurs have also raised the alarm about his case and called for his release. 

In 2019, Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture, found that Assange’s treatment by the UK Government amounted to torture and could put his life at risk.

In a later book on the Assange case, Melzer wrote: “The Assange case is the story of a man who is being persecuted and abused for exposing the dirty secrets of the powerful, including war crimes, torture and corruption. It is a story of deliberate judicial arbitrariness in Western democracies that are otherwise keen to present themselves as exemplary in the area of human rights.”

Melzer’s successor, Alice Jill Edwards, also called on the UK to halt Assange’s extradition to the US. Edwards highlighted the risk of solitary confinement and the harm to Assange’s mental health, in addition to the threat of a 175-year prison sentence. Edwards also raised concerns about the lack of protection for whistleblowers under the US Espionage Act. 

These same concerns were echoed by Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, who said: “Gathering, reporting and disseminating information, including national security information when it is in the public interest, is a legitimate exercise of journalism and should not be treated as a crime.”

Khan also noted that, if extradited, Assange would be the first publisher to be prosecuted in the US under the Espionage Act.

Several respected human rights organisations have also campaigned on Assange’s behalf. Last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists led a coalition of civil society groups urging the US Department of Justice to drop the charges against Assange, and reminding the US Government of the ‘New York Times problem’ that prevented the Obama administration from pressing charges, i.e. the risk that prosecuting Assange could leave journalists across the world at risk of prosecution for carrying out their duties in the public interest. 

Due to state sovereignty, both the UK and the US would likely face widespread public criticism and condemnation, but no domestic legal consequences, if they proceed to extradite Assange.

A Last-Minute Lifeline?

President Biden has said he is considering a request from Australia to drop the 14 year-long US pursuit of Assange and allow him to return to his home country, but he may only have months left to do that.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called Biden's acknowledgement of his request "encouraging", and according to Sky News, said on 11 April: "I believe this must be brought to a conclusion and that Mr Assange has already paid a significant price and enough is enough.

"There's nothing to be gained by Mr Assange's continued incarceration, in my very strong view, and I've put that as the view of the Australian Government."

Breaking: Julian Assange wins right to full appeal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/05/2024 - 9:50pm in

Wikileaks founder wins further opportunity to fight extradition after court unconvinced by US ‘assurances’ regarding freedom of speech

The High Court has decided that Julian Assange can appeal against his extradition to the US, after judges were unconvinced by false US ‘assurances’ that he would not be denied an argument on freedom of speech grounds. Assurances that he would not be put to death were accepted by the court, despite the exposure of earlier US plots to kill him extrajudicially.

Demonstrators at the High Court as they waited for news

The fight is far from over, but for now no extradition will take place – though Assange will remain unjustly imprisoned. The US should drop this disgraced case, which should have been abandoned or thrown out of court when its main witness admitted he had lied all along.

The crowd’s reaction after the court’s finding was announced

Congratulations to Mr Assange, his family and supporters for winning this respite and potential step to his freedom and victory for journalism, human rights and government accountability.

If you wish to republish this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.

Rishi Sunak Accused of Lying Over Cost of Justice – as Victims Made to Pay Thousands to Access Vital Court Records

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/04/2024 - 1:08am in

Tags 

courts, Law

The son of a domestic abuse victim who killed her abusive husband in 2010 (the conviction was later overturned) has accused the PM of lying after claiming families of homicide victims get free transcripts of court proceedings. 

In England and Wales, victims of crimes and their families are currently asked to pay hundreds or even thousands of pounds to private companies for transcripts of court hearings that relate to them. 

The Open Justice for All campaign says this “impossible cost of closure is not one that many victims cannot afford to pay — especially given how traumatic stress can impact a victim’s ability to go to work and focus.” 

“Traumatic” Experience

David Challen, now a campaigner on domestic violence, has been refused free access to court transcripts for his mother’s successful appeal against her 2011 conviction for murdering her husband. 

David Challen has been quoted fees of £1,200 to read his 2019 appeal hearing that cleared his mother of killing her husband. She was freed on grounds of diminished responsibility due to the abuse she faced. 

But responding to a question from Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney at PMQs on Wednesday, PM Rishi Sunak told MPs on Wednesday: “We already offer a free service to families of homicide victims” to access court transcripts. 

David told Byline Times: “The Prime Minister lied in PMQ's when questioned about court transcripts…Here I am, the family of a homicide victim being denied a free service that should be available at no cost not only for myself, but for all victims of crime.”

The London-based campaigner says the lack of access to vital court documents has held back his recovery journey in processing what he and his family went through. 

On 11 December 2023, David Challen's request for a transcript of the 2019 appeal – part of his therapeutic recovery – was refused, with the registrar saying:  "The transcribers will charge a fee for providing it. There are many pressures on public funding at present. Having considered your request, Lord Justice Holroyde has concluded it would not be an appropriate use of public money for that fee now to be paid from public funds. Your request has therefore been refused."

David says the high costs he and other victims face are "traumatic". "As victims of crime these are our stories, our lived experiences and we deserve a right to read and come to terms with them. Paying for that service is borderline state sanctioned abuse."

Letter from the court rejecting David Challen's request for a free court transcript (Dec 2023)

After asking for the Judge to reconsider, Challen was told by the court that even to listen to a recording of proceedings would “involve being present in a courtroom at the [Royal Courts of Justice], which can only be done under supervision. It follows that this request will require a court official to be present whilst you listen to the whole of a recording of a hearing which occupied all or most of two court days.”

The court official added: “Lord Justice Holroyde remains sympathetic to your position, but does not believe that is an appropriate use of the limited staff resources of the court.”

He has also been told that the original trial recording from 2011, which put his mother behind bars, was “destroyed” – “yet I was not informed there was a time limit.” 

Despite the Prime Minister’s claims about free transcripts, there appears to be nothing about free transcripts being provided for the families of homicide victims on the official Government information page, or in either of the necessary application forms. 

The five-page form to request extraordinary waiver to receive a transcript “at public expense” requires applicants to set out their monthly expenses. 

The Government's forms requesting a waiver of transcription fees ask for a full breakdown of the applicant's monthly expenses (Byline Times screengrab)

David Challen added: “The exploitative system that bars our therapeutic means of recovery is a dark ages practice that needs to be abolished. As victims of crime these are our stories, our lived experiences and we deserve a right to read and come to terms with them. Paying for that service is borderline state sanctioned abuse.”

"A Mockery of Justice"

Survivor Juliana Terlizzi has been campaigning to get the law changed and secure 'real open justice'. Photo: Supplied

In 2020, 36-year-old Juliana Terlizzi was drugged and raped by then-boyfriend, Hubert Greliak, 35. She has waived her anonymity to speak about her experience of the justice system. 

The trial of her rapist took nearly two years to get to court, as the Mirror reported.‌ Finally, in 2022, Greliak was found guilty at Isleworth Crown Court of rape and assault by penetration, and jailed for over 13 years).

But Juliana was then told by the court that a transcript of her ten-day trial would cost £7,459.20, despite reading it being recommended by her therapist. 

 "It just feels like a mockery. It feels like they don't care about us. We [the victims] are always an afterthought." She described her experience of the justice system as “horrific”. 

“If transcripts are free in Brazil, a developing country where I'm from, why can't we do it here?,” the survivor and campaigner told Byline Times.

In Scotland, victims in rape and serious sexual assault cases now have access to transcripts from their court cases free of charge, under a year-long trial. 

Charlotte’s Case

Charlotte, whose identity is being protected as her alleged abuser was found not guilty, was discouraged by police from attending the full magistrates case last year, aside from giving evidence. 

After the case fell, however, she was told there were no records available for the court hearings. 

“I had requested a live link to give my evidence from another room in the court. And that was declined. So basically, I was told: you have to come to give evidence, and then you can't see the rest of the trial, or hear the rest of the trial. And when he was found not guilty, I obviously wanted to understand why or what happened, what was said and all of that… 

“For me to really understand and be able to move on and let go of all the things that kind of happened, I really wanted to know what was said,” Charlotte told Byline Times.

Notes from a barrister for the CPS, which were eventually shared with her, revealed that the judge suggested she was an unreliable witness “because I waited eight months to report the crime: the crime being a [multiple] year sexually, physically, mentally abusive relationship. 

“And the second thing she said was, ‘you clearly spoke to other victims of domestic abuse, so you knew exactly what to say’.”

Charlotte wanted to hold the judge to account for these apparent sexist remarks. “But of course, the only way to put a complaint in is: you need your transcripts, you need proof that that was what was said. So when I found out that a Magistrates Court is not actually recorded, that was really upsetting.” 

She spoke to other victims and helped develop the Open Justice campaign. “It's about me talking about the most intimate and horrific period of my life. Why can I not have the information about that?”

Another case, reported by The Times involved ‘Lily’, a child abuse and rape survivor, whose mother was quoted £6,534 for trial transcripts, eventually crowdfunding £1,428.90 for a partial transcript. Other victims have reportedly been quoted fees up to £22,000.

‘Dragging their Feet’

After speaking to constituents affected by the scandal, Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, Sarah Olney, introduced a Commons amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill in November, urging the Government to waive transcript fees for victims of sexual violence, a move supported across party lines. 

Despite this, the amendment was not selected for a vote by the Speaker and was not included into the legislation.  

Instead, the Government has proposed a one-year pilot to provide victims of rape and other serious sexual offences with the judge's sentencing remarks for free. Critics say the measure falls short as it excludes non-guilty verdicts and any of the rest of the trial process, unlike the scheme in Scotland. 

An open letter backing the campaign has been co-signed by 41 others include the CEO’s of Refuge, Rape Crisis UK, Women’s Aid and SAMM, as well as Cherie Booth CBE KC, the Victims’ Commissioner for London, the Chair of the Justice Select Committee, and the Mother and Father of the House of Commons. 

The letter repeated the ask in the amendment which would ‘Make provisions in the Victims’ Bill to enable victims and bereaved families to request to receive a court transcript free of charge’. 

The Victims and Prisoners Bill has now passed to the House of Lords, with the open justice amendment re-introduced by Baroness Brinton (Liberal Democrat). It is set for a vote on April 23. 

Neither Labour nor the Government have indicated they will support the free transcripts amendment yet, on cost grounds. The cost of transcripts, managed by private companies, remains a barrier due to the fact that the notes are taken by hand, and then digitised. 

However, there are now extensive, low-cost AI-powered transcription tools already on the market and being used by millions of people 

Making them freely available would cost around £5.3m a year, based on 2022 figures compiled by the House of Commons library. 

In 2017, Labour MP David Lammy said: “As part of the Government’s £1 billion court modernisation programme, all sentencing remarks in the Crown court should be published in audio and/or written form…This would build trust by making justice more transparent and comprehensible for victims, witnesses and offenders.” However, to date, Labour has not yet backed the amendment.

Sarah Olney MP said: “No victim or bereaved family should be forced to pay thousands to access a court transcript, and it is clear our current system is failing to address this glaring inequality.

“Justice should not have a price tag, and I am so honoured to stand side-by-side with victims and bereaved families on this vitally important campaign.

“Cases like this are sadly all too common, and the Justice Secretary must hear our calls for change and accept amendments to the Victims’ Bill which will help reduce the cost of these transcripts for victims.

“It is high time the Government listened to victims and experts and finally made this much needed change.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson did not respond to our specific questions but told this newspaper: “It is vital victims get the support and information they need to rebuild their lives and move on. That is why we’ve announced a new pilot scheme that will enable victims of serious sexual offences to request a copy of the judge’s sentencing remarks free of charge – building on a provision already in place for families of homicide victims in cases of murder or manslaughter.

“While judges can already decide to provide a full or partial transcription to victims, this pilot will inform our next steps as we continue to look at all other options to reduce the costs of providing them.”

Just One-in-Four Voters Back Rishi Sunak’s Threat to Quit ‘Foreign Court’ of ECHR

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 06/04/2024 - 12:14am in

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak this week threatened to quit the ECHR, saying that he would take Britain out of what he described as the “foreign court” if it stood in the way of his plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

"I do believe that border security and making sure that we can control illegal migration is more important than membership of a foreign court", he told the Sun newspaper.

However, new polling commissioned by Byline Times this week suggests that just one-in-four (26%) voters would back leaving the European Court of Human Rights.

By contrast, 43% of those surveyed by pollsters We Think said that they would support remaining within the international court’s jurisdiction. 

A further third (32%) of voters said they don’t know what they thought about the issue either way.

Conservative MPs have been piling pressure on the Prime Minister to back quitting the ECHR in the party’s upcoming general election manifesto, with some commentators even suggesting that the party could promise to hold a referendum on the issue.

However, unlike Brexit which ultimately gathered support from a majority of voters, the issue of Britain’s membership of the ECHR appears to be only a minority concern.

Even among Conservative supporters, support for quitting the court is still not a majority proposition, the poll suggests, with just 46% of those surveyed agreeing that the UK should leave.

Sunak has previously dampened down expectations of ever quitting the ECHR, with the Rwandan Government hinting last December that the country would pull out of their deportation agreement with the UK if they quit the ECHR.

However, Rwandan officials appeared to back away from this suggestion this week following Sunak’s latest intervention, saying that the UK's membership of the court was a matter for Sunak's Government.

Despite Sunak's threat to leave the ECHR, the Prime Minister continues to insist that he believes doing so won't be necessary, saying this week that the Government's Rwanda scheme is "in compliance" with all international conventions the UK is already signed up to.

However, the UK's Supreme Court ruled last year that the Government's plan would not be in compliance with international law, due to their assessment that Rwanda is not a safe country.

The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner last month savaged what it described as the "dangerous" Rwanda scheme, which it singled out as an example of states "dismantling collective human rights safeguards [and] eroding legal and democratic checks that protect all our rights".

Human rights groups have also criticised plans to deport people to the country, where political opponents of the country's dictator Paul Kagame continue to be targeted by the regime.

However, last month a Conservative peer defended the scheme, saying that the country was indeed a "perfectly safe country" as long as you "don't oppose the Government".

‘Why We Will Apply to Take Ofcom to Court Unless It Explains Its Approach to GB News’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/03/2024 - 7:00pm in

Readers of Byline Times are likely to have been among the many who have complained to Ofcom about GB News and its partisan political stance.

Byline Times itself has repeatedly scrutinised the broadcast regulator’s unwillingness to enforce the impartiality requirements of its Broadcasting Code, other than administering a few slaps on the wrist for breaches so glaring and egregious that they could not be ignored or excused.

It has also attempted to establish the reasons for Ofcom’s forbearance.

We may be about to find out a bit more about what’s going on at Ofcom’s Riverside House HQ as I have teamed up with the Good Law Project to take the first step in a legal process, putting the regulator on notice that we intend to apply for a judicial review of its approach to GB News if Ofcom does not make it clear that it has not changed its policy in the case of smaller or non-public service broadcasters.

In particular, holding them to different standards from those governing the public service broadcasters as far as impartiality is concerned – something which the Code does not appear to permit.

What finally prompted this action were remarks by Ofcom's CEO Dame Melanie Dawes in an interview with Sky News on 13 March. In it, she stated that its requirement for due impartiality was not "an absolute test of equal balance" but has to be achieved "in a way that’s appropriate for the audience expectation, in a way that’s appropriate for the subject matter. We expect a range of views to be brought to bear, rather than just one single view or small cluster of views". This, she explained, "can be done… in lots and lots of different ways".

But, crucially, she then added: "The standard for someone like the BBC, which reaches still, 70% of the TV viewing audience for news is a different one from that of a channel that has an audience of maybe 4% or 5% of a of the viewing public. We expect different things and I think that's appropriate."

She then went on to make a distinction between different kinds of broadcasters.

On the one hand, there are the public service broadcasters and Sky News, with their "pretty scrupulous approach to impartially", their "high standards… underpinned by the Broadcasting Code", and the "high levels of trust" that people have in them.

On the other, there are now channels "that can present the news from a particular perspective. It’s not about the overall output of a channel, as long as for each programme there is a sufficient range of views brought to bear. And I think that that allows a level of diversity and plurality in provision to be brought to the viewing public".    

It is our case that Dame Melanie is proposing that channels with relatively low audience figures (although it should be pointed out that GB News still reaches millions of citizens) are held to a different standard of impartiality from that applying to the public service broadcasters.

We also argue that, judging by Dame Melanie’s interview,  ‘different’ here means less ‘scrupulous’ than the ‘high standards’ underpinned by the Code.

In our letter to Ofcom, we refer to this as the “lower standards for small or non-public service broadcasters approach”.

We are contending that this amounts to a revision of the due impartiality requirements of the Code, that this revision has been undertaken by Ofcom without any form of consultation, and that this runs counter to the 2003 Communications Act.

Among other things, this Act created Ofcom and required it to establish a standards code. Section 319(1) states: "It shall be the duty of Ofcom to set, and from time to time to review and revise, such standards for the content of programmes to be included in television and radio services as appear to them best calculated to secure the standards objectives."

No public consultation on the specific subject of impartiality has taken place since 2007, when Ofcom published the discussion document 'New News, Future News’, which did indeed suggest relaxing the impartiality rules for smaller channels. However, the suggestions were badly received (except, all too predictably, by newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, who at that time was itching to turn Sky News into Fox News UK) and the idea was quietly dropped.

But, as Stewart Purvis, former Ofcom content and standards partner, and Chris Banatvala, Ofcom’s founder director of standards, have pointed out: "It is not for Ofcom but Parliament to decide whether impartiality rules should be weakened, changed or abandoned. If, after public and parliamentary debate, there’s a view that perhaps impartiality should only apply to public service broadcasters, then so be it. But, at the moment, the rules are being changed by the back door."

We are also asking for clarification of the meaning (if any) of Dame Melanie’s statement that due impartiality "is not about the overall output of a channel". 

As Ofcom is always at great pains to point out, the Code requires that news programmes in whatever form are presented with 'due’ impartiality – and both the Communications Act and the Code stress that "special impartiality requirements" apply to news and other programmes dealing with "matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy". These are, of course, GB News’ stock-in-trade.

But, although the word ‘due’ is made to do a great deal of heavy lifting in the Code and in its accompanying guidance notes – indeed, threatening to qualify the very notion of impartiality out of existence – nowhere is it suggested that due impartiality turns on the audience share that a particular channel enjoys.

When fining RT £200,000 in July 2019 for breaches of its impartiality rules, Ofcom explicitly stated that, although RT had a relatively small audience of, on average, 2,300 viewers, amounting to a share of total viewing in the UK of 0.03%, "in this context, the extent of a channel’s audience cannot sensibly dictate the gravity of the breach, not least because the due impartiality regime could easily be circumvented and undermined if smaller broadcasters were allowed an effective exemption from generally applied standards".

When RT appealed against the fine, the Court of Appeal stated that "the number of viewers affected by the partial broadcasting is not the point, because Parliament has determined that such broadcasting shall be duly impartial". It also pointed out that the harm caused by partial broadcasting "is not limited to the harm caused to viewers but extends to the harm indirectly caused to members of society generally by the provision of broadcast news and current affairs that lacks due impartiality".

When fining talkSPORT in February 2020 for impartiality breaches in three episodes of a programme presented by George Galloway, Ofcom announced that although it "recognised that the audience for the programmes in question was small when compared to some other radio services", it considered that the three repeated breaches of certain of the impartiality rules in its Code "had the potential to adversely affect those listeners who chose to listen to the relevant programmes and who were therefore presented with coverage of important policy and political matters which denied them an appropriately wide range of viewpoints".

Our case rests largely on the question of whether GB News, as a smaller broadcaster, is being held to different standards from those governing public service broadcasters as far as impartiality is concerned. However, there are also other aspects of Ofcom’s approach which are troubling and are in need of investigation.

Firstly, there is the matter of freedom of expression.

In her oral evidence to the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee last March, Dame Melanie stated that "the phrase 'freedom of expression’ is a very important part of this debate – one that perhaps should be a little bit more prominent".

In the wake of the furore following then Conservative Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson interviewing then Home Secretary Suella Braverman in September 2023 on GB News, in answer to a question about whether the Code was fit for purpose, she was quoted in the Guardian as stating that: "The rules are flexible, they require us to prioritise freedom of expression, which is missing a bit in this conversation, and we feel we’ve got plenty of flexibility."

The only problem here, however, is that the rules do not require Ofcom to ‘prioritise’ freedom of expression – they merely require it to take into consideration Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights when making their judgments. In point of fact, however, they should be compliant with these articles. 

In any case, the idea of freedom of expression championed by Dame Melanie, and also by Ofcom Chair Lord Michael Grade, seems to echo that of Elon Musk and his fellow ‘free speech fundamentalists’ – namely that rules governing any speech on any platform should be at the very least relaxed, regardless of its provenance and the damage it might inflict on others, or on public and democratic life in general.

Second, there is the idea that what Ofcom really wants is that viewers should be able to access views other than those that they encounter on the public service broadcasting channels. So, for example, in her appearance before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Dame Melanie said that "we are always thinking about freedom of expression here and do not want to see just a single, monocultural – a mono-representation of views on British TV. When you compare what you get in the UK with what you see in America, which is unregulated, it is very, very different".

Similarly, in her Sky News interview, she remarked that "it’s very important that we uphold freedom of expression. And that’s the freedom of the broadcaster to broadcast and to express, if you like, their creativity in their journalistic skill in multiple different ways. But it’s also the freedom of the viewer to receive a range of different formats and opinions". 

Subtextual it may be, but lurking behind these pronouncements there seems to be the highly questionable assumption that the public service broadcasters are beaming at their viewers a particular view of the world. And, in the current 'culture war’ climate, one strongly suspects that the ‘view’ that Ofcom has in its sights is that of the dread ‘metropolitan liberal elite’.

It’s almost as if the real problems are seen as lying with the allegedly out-of-touch public service broadcasters, and particularly the BBC (which Ofcom now regulates), while GB News has brought a welcome blast of fresh air to a stale and staid broadcasting environment.  

Dame Melanie’s evocation of the variety of representations which are broadcast in the US is a worrying reminder that Fox News was launched there on the back of the canard that it was going to be ‘fair and balanced’ by providing an alternative to the ‘liberal bias’ of the existing news networks. But the truth of the matter is that the latter appear to display such a bias only when viewed from a vertiginously conservative perspective, whereas Fox and the various other populist channels are about as unfair and unbalanced politically and ideologically as it is possible to imagine.

Nonetheless, the Foxification of news and current affairs on British television could well be the result of Ofcom’s apparent rewriting of the impartiality regulations in its Broadcasting Code. Unless, that is, this process can be halted and then thrown into reverse. 

Julian Petley is a Honorary Professor of Social and Political Sciences at Brunel University London

‘Extraordinary’ Claims of Evidence Spoliation in NHS Whistleblower Case

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/03/2024 - 11:53pm in

Questions have been raised around court claims of evidence spoliation and recoverability in a high-profile NHS whistleblowing case during which tens of thousands of emails were deleted.

NHS doctor Chris Day has won the right to challenge a tribunal decision about information governance in NHS hospital trusts and the scrutiny applied to attempted evidence destruction at employment tribunals.

Day exposed acute understaffing at a south London intensive care unit linked to two patient deaths in 2013. His decade-long legal campaign has since revealed a lack of statutory whistleblowing protections for nearly 50,000 doctors below consultant level in England.

An appeal tribunal in February refused Day the right to challenge key aspects of an earlier ruling that cleared Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust (LGT) of concealing evidence and perverting the course of justice when one of the trust’s directors deleted up to 90,000 emails during a tribunal hearing in July 2022.

That hearing heard that LGT communications director, David Cocke, had attempted to destroy tens of thousands of emails and other electronic archives that were potentially critical to the case.

An unsigned witness statement submitted to the tribunal on behalf of Cocke claimed that the information had been “permanently” deleted. LGT has since claimed that the cache was recovered and submitted to the tribunal, something Day disputes.

Appeal tribunal judge Andrew Burns described Cocke’s conduct during the 2022 hearing as “extraordinary”.

Cocke’s actions followed LGT’s late disclosure of more than 200 pages of documents and, the tribunal heard, suggested that the trust’s CEO, Ben Travis, had given “inaccurate” and potentially misleading evidence to the tribunal days earlier.

Day’s barrister, Andrew Allen, told an employment appeal tribunal in February that Cocke went "in the middle of the night and destroyed them... because he was in a panic".

According to Allen, Cocke "had been observing the case and realised that key evidence had not been disclosed".

That Cocke "destroyed documentation potentially relevant to the litigation,” Allen argued, “is intimately tied up with" Day's concealment and detriment claims. 

He added that there was a “failure to make findings” at the 2022 tribunal on the attempted destruction of electronic evidence.

Burns noted in his judgment that “although the employment tribunal has mentioned that it can draw adverse inferences… from the respondent’s deletion of documents, it doesn’t seem to have turned its mind to doing so.” He described Day’s patient safety disclosures as been of “the utmost importance”.

Allen also raised questions about LGT’s destruction of electronic records prior to the 2022 hearing.

"Documents had not been sought from key personnel,” he said, including from Janet Lynch – an ex-workforce and education director at the trust who, as its instructing client, had been responsible for advising the trust’s solicitors up until late 2018. “And key documents [including Lynch’s emails] were destroyed after she left the trust.”

Five trust directors’ emails – Travis, Cocke, Lynch, and two doctors involved with Day’s whistleblowing case – were either said to have been deleted or unavailable during the key dates being examined by the 2022 tribunal.

The hearing considered whether the trust had caused Day detriment linked to his whistleblowing. His appeal will examine whether public statements the trust issued about the settlement of a previous hearing did so.

The directors whose emails were unavailable at the 2022 tribunal are understood to have been involved in producing the statements, which drew criticism from the Care Quality Commission regulator.

The appeal hearing will not consider Day’s allegations of concealment. He has asked the tribunal to review its decision and applied for a further ground to be added.

Martin Nikel, an expert in e-discovery who heads Thomas Murray's cyber risk advisory e-discovery and litigation support practice, told Byline Times that a number of key questions regarding the emails’ status had not been answered by the tribunal or LGT.

"It's very irregular for a director of communications to have the ability to permanently delete emails without administrative privileges,” he said.

“When it's said that he deleted 90,000 emails, that's potentially a big task to undertake. In these scenarios, an end user without significant knowledge and access rights, would leave three potential sources of email, which could be explored to see if the email can be recovered.”

The NHSMail system, which LGT has confirmed was in use in 2022, usually retains emails for a minimum of 30 days and up to two years, Nikel said. A forensic discovery request or search of the Microsoft 365 environment could also establish the presence of the emails.

Nikel added that the way LGT board members were asked to provide evidence for the 2022 hearing was “unreliable” and explained that “it appears that board members were instructed to simply search their own emails".

“This is an obviously unreliable way to perform any collection of evidence in a neutral way," he said. "The NHS has processes in place for such situations – and organisations like the Counter Fraud Authority – that I am sure could provide better evidence-handling processes in such high-profile matters.

“Legal advisors could appoint external forensic experts, which if nothing else, would help with perception in future situations such as these.”

Robert Maddox, an employment lawyer with Doyle Clayton, told Byline Times that employment tribunals apply the same evidence to disclosure and preservation rules as the civil courts, but don't have “the same level of rigorous procedure that goes with a High Court matter”.

“For example, in the civil courts, a party can be obliged to complete a disclosure certificate of compliance confirming where they’ve searched, what they’ve searched for, confirming they’ve disclosed all relevant documents," he said.

“That’s not necessarily done in the tribunal. There is an obligation on parties to perform a reasonable search and to disclose any documents that are relevant, irrespective of whether they are favourable or adverse for a party’s case.

“But there certainly is an obligation to preserve documents and tribunals will look unfavourably on documents having been lost or destroyed.”

Maddox added that, although it is possible to enlist an IT expert to assess lost or deleted evidence, tribunals can take a party’s statements at face value.

It is more common for a party to make submissions on adverse inferences that can be drawn from missing, lost or deleted evidence, he said, rather than incur costs or risk further delays.

A LGT spokesperson acknowledged the outcome of the appeal hearing but declined to comment further "as legal proceedings are ongoing”.

LGT declined to say if Cocke still works at the trust and whether it paid his legal costs after he enlisted the services of a separate firm during the 2022 hearing. Travis remains the trust CEO.

‘The Northern Ireland Troubles Legacy Act is the Most Callous Form of Politicking by the UK Government’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/03/2024 - 8:00pm in

The UK Government’s controversial Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act has been dealt its first legal blow, with Belfast’s High Court ruling that legislation breaches a litany of legal obligations and international human rights standards.

The court found that sections of the Act breach Articles 2, 3 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 4 of the 1998 Human Rights Act, and section 2 of the Windsor Framework/Withdrawal Agreement.

Not for the first time, the Government has discarded its international obligations for temporary political gain – this time at the expense of victims and survivors of Northern Ireland’s 30-year conflict who have spent decades in pursuit of truth and justice.

To continue subjecting victims and survivors to further suffering through prolonged and arduous legal challenges amounts to the most callous forms of politicking.

The Legacy Bill received royal assent in September 2023, despite fierce opposition from all of Northern Ireland’s political parties, the Irish Government, victims groups and human rights bodies.

That the only support the UK Government managed to receive was from veterans’ groups is an unambiguous indication of the unfeigned purpose of this legislation: to protect the perpetrators, and more specifically, British armed forces, who have faced inquests and investigations into the murder of civilians during The Troubles.

The 2023 Act brings an end to investigations into Troubles-related incidents, blocking new civil claims, closing inquests, and preventing further police investigations.

More than 3,500 people were killed during the 30-year conflict, and 3,000 of those killings remain unsolved.

The main plank of the Act is a conditional amnesty for British security forces and paramilitaries for crimes they committed during the conflict.

Through the Independent Commission for Reconciliation, established under the Legacy Act, immunity must be granted if the commission believes the applicant for immunity has provided a truthful account to the best of their recollection – a process so inherently flawed, as highlighted by Judge Colton, that it is a wonder the Government and those who have subsequently attached their names to the commission ever thought it could stand.

Justice Colton concluded: “Immunity from prosecution provisions under section 19 of the (Northern Ireland Troubles) Act are in breach of the lead applicant's rights pursuant to Article 2 of the ECHR. I am also satisfied that they are in breach of Article 3 of the ECHR”.

The judge also declared that the immunity provisions were incompatible with the Windsor Framework agreement and added that "there is no evidence that the granting of immunity under the Act will in any way contribute to reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the evidence is to the contrary”.

Judge Colton spent more than two hours reading the 200-page judgment which shredded the foundations of the flawed legislation. Despite this evidential ruling, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris said that the Government “remains committed” to the implementation of the Legacy Act.

In bringing an end to inquests and investigations, the Government has sought to block access to justice for victims and survivors. Despite legal challenges, implementation of the Legacy Act is already having an effect.

The daughter of Patrick 'Patsy' Duffy – an IRA man who was shot 14 times by undercover soldiers in Derry in 1978 in what is believed to be the first shoot to kill killing – has been informed that the 2019 inquest into her father’s death will not continue.

Despite the severity and the scale of the killing across the region, the Ministry of Defence has just one person working on all Northern Ireland inquests, regardless of the deadline of 1 May this year set by the new legacy laws.

There are 28 legacy inquests currently in the judicial system assigned to either a judge or coroner. The majority of these inquests are unlikely to be concluded before 1 May.

It is widely expected that the UK Government will lodge an appeal to the High Court ruling, forcing the families who mounted this group legal challenge to face more lengthy legal proceedings.

Many consider this to be a political tactic – the longer this can be dragged through the courts, the more victims and campaigners will die before they have a chance to uncover the truth of what happened to their loved one.

Paddy Cassidy, Brid Kane, Jackie Nicholl, and Thomas McConville spent their lives seeking truth and justice, but ultimately passed away without ever having seen either.

Labour’s Shadow Northern Ireland Hilary Benn has said his party would repeal the Act and return to the principles of the Stormont House Agreement if they get the keys to Number 10 after the next election.

Stormont House was a multi-party agreement between the UK and Irish Government in 2014 which sought to address the legacy of the conflict. It was never fully implemented, and the UK’s subsequent Legacy Act is a unilateral departure from Stormont House.

As a result, the Irish Government has launched an interstate case against the UK at the European Court of Human Rights – only the second time that Dublin has taken the UK to court and the first such instance in more than 50 years.

Given the High Court judgement last week, the outcome of the interstate case appears fairly obvious. What is less obvious is why the Conservatives would continue on this legally-damned and morally repugnant path.

The Legacy Act is likely to be ripped up, whether through a future Labour government or the multitude of court cases – so why put victims and survivors through this ordeal? That’s a question that should haunt the Government.

If the Conservatives possessed any semblance of empathy, they would repeal the Act.

Emma DeSouza is an Irish writer, commentator and campaigner

Cartoon: Trump shopping network

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/02/2024 - 9:50am in

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