On this day in 1215, Magna Carta dared to suggest the King must obey our laws. Now, our Government seeks to put itself above them.
The Magna Carta – the Great Charter of the Liberties of England – was issued nearly 800 years ago. This historic document required the then King John to accept limitations to his power and to declare certain liberties - and arguably established the principle that no-one, not even the state, is above the law. The Charter stated: “To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.”
But this important piece of English history might soon lose its significance, if the Government has its way.
The Justice and Security Bill – which will be debated next week in the House of Lords – aims to make it extremely difficult to hold the Government or its intelligence services to account over complicity in serious human rights abuses. It also seeks to limit victims’ access to important knowledge regarding their case by introducing secret hearings. The implementation of such a law would have serious consequences for the historic tradition of transparency and accountability in British courts. Also – it is completely unnecessary.
British and American intelligence services have been involved in serious wrongdoing during the ‘War on Terror’, and it’s crucial to bring this to light. Yet this Bill is set to prevent victims of torture and rendition from ever getting to the truth about what happened to them.
Abdel Hakim Belhadj and Sami al-Saadi – both opponents of the Gaddafi regime - were rendered to Libya, along with their wives and young children, by British intelligence officials in March 2004. Several years of imprisonment and torture followed. Today, they are both taking action against the UK for its role in their rendition and treatment.
The Magna Carta states:
38. “No bailiff for the future shall, upon his own unsupported complaint, put anyone to his "law", without credible witnesses brought for this purposes.”
By allowing the Justice and Security Bill to become law, we are bound to destroy our centuries-old tradition of open justice set out in the Magna Carta, allowing both the state and its intelligence services to easily avoid embarrassment and prosecution in secret courts.