BRITAIN'S Home Secretary Charles Clarke is a lawyer. (Come to think of it, who isn't a lawyer in Mr Blair's Cabinet? John Prescott? No, but he's a lower-deck lawyer, isn't he?) So, as a lawyer Mr Clarke should surely respect the law, national and international. But yesterday he showed disrespect to a senior United Nations official who said that the new anti-terrorism measures announced on Wednesday might be illegal in certain respects. Mr Clarke's response to Manfred Novak, the UN human rights commission's special investigator on torture, was this: “The human rights of those people who were blown up on the tube on July 7 are, to be frank, more important than the human rights of the people who committed these acts.” This intemperate, inaccurate, irrelevant and populist remark is not worthy of a minister of the crown however much he may want to curry favour with the Murdoch tabloid press and its readers. Manfred Novak's criticism is not related directly to the list of offences published yesterday (“foment, justify or glorify terrorism”) and commented on here, but rather to the British government's intention to deport any non-British resident it believes has committed any of the offences, regardless of whether or not they might be subjected to imprisonment and torture on return to their own country. The government's response to this criticism is that it is reaching written agreements with the countries concerned, initially with Jordan and Algeria, that the deportees will not be tortured or otherwise ill-treated. The response of human rights organisations to such agreements is that they will not be worth the paper they are written on. A second UN body has also condemned Britain's deportation proposals, saying that they would be in breach of the 1951 Geneva Convention, specifically: “These proposals, without access to due process, could amount to sending people back to countries where they could be persecuted. That would be an abrogation of the UK's obligations under the 1951 convention.” The question for Mr Clarke and Mr Blair and Mr Straw and all the other legal eagles in the Cabinet is whether the law is there to be observed or just swept aside when it is found to be inconvenient.


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