Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Cruel Britannia ~ serious material to consider

Suspicions about recent UK involvement in torture or (other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment ) committed abroad have never been properly laid to rest and they are unlikely to be resolved if the Justice and Security Bill reaches the statute book. Some of the available material is disturbing.

Fourth Annual Baha Mousa Lecture:

On 19th October, my companion blog published - Fourth Baha Mousa Memorial Lecture - Iraq - Unlawful treatment of detainees 'institutional'.  That post covered a lecture delivered by a former Senior Legal Adviser to the British Army in Iraq - Lt. Col. Nicholas Mercer.  The lecture is reported at The Guardian 19th October 2012 where Colonel Mercer said the UK's complicity in the unlawful treatment of detainees was "institutional" and must be wiped out to prevent future abuses by British troops.  Colonel Mercer described how he was gagged by the Ministry of Defence after he criticised senior British commanders and MoD officials in the case of Baha Mousa, who died while in the custody of British troops.  Mercer said his attempts to set up independent judicial monitoring of the treatment of detainees were blocked by the MoD. Britain's obligations under domestic and international law were routinely ignored, he added.

A podcast of Colonel Mercer's speech is now available at Public Interest Lawyers
PIL say that they wished "to give everyone an opportunity to listen to the lecture which provided a fascinating and, at times, extremely moving account of Colonel Mercer’s courageous attempts to try and ensure that the British Army complied with international law in its treatment of detainees in Iraq.   He described his horror in 2003 at seeing tens of Iraqis hooded in stress positions within a British detention facility and his dismay when the Ministry of Defence blocked his efforts to set up independent judicial monitoring of the detention of Iraqis. Colonel Mercer used his address to call upon public servants to end torture by the state."

Please listen to the lecture.

Cruel Britannia:

Francis Fitzgibbon QC is also the author of the Nothing like the Sun blog where he draws attention to a book Cruel Britannia by Ian Cobain.    Fitzgibbon QC writes a very powerful and eloquent post which ought, coming from such an eminent member of the bar, be a wake up call to the British public at a time when their rights are actually under serious assault.  Fitzgibbon wrote:

"The idea that citizens have human rights that they can assert against public authorities in Court is, bizarrely, regarded as something foreign and disreputable. Very few politicians have stood up to defend the Human Rights Act, whose main objective was to allow UK citizens to use UK Courts to assert rights they had anyway, rather than go to Strasbourg. Now the heat is also on Judicial Review, the precious and entirely home-grown legal challenge to administrative decisions – not on their merits, but on the narrower basis that the decision-makers have failed to follow proper and lawful procedures. All the while, the continuing assault on legal aid denies poor citizens access to the law, which has grown into a forest of rules and regulations in so many areas that touch our lives, so that anyone entering it without expert guidance should abandon all hope."

The book was reviewed by Clive Stafford Smith in The Guardian 23rd November 2012 - Cruel Britannia by Ian Cobain - review

A Very British Killing:

Returning to the Fourth Baha Mousa lecture.  This was the occasion for the launch of a further book by Professor Andrew Williams - “A Very British Killing: The Death of Baha Mousa”.  The book is available via Amazon at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Very-British-Killing-Death-Mousa/dp/0224096885.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture:

Here, Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, discussed the global efforts to eradicate torture.  Please see Chatham House - Enforcing the absolute prohibition against torture where the Special rapporteur spoke of efforts on a global scale to eradicate torture.

Other posts etc:

Law and Lawyers posts -

13th February 2010 - Has the UK been complicit in either the torture or mistreatment of prisoners?
9th September 2011 - The 10th Anniversary of 9/11
23rd November 2011 - The unfolding aftermath of the Iraq War


  1. Mercer, bit of an apologist for Loyalist death squads on Norn Iron, n'est pas?

    1. Not so sure. In his speech he did not particularly dwell on events in Northern Ireland so I think it's hard to form any definite view.