The next judgment in the Harry Shindler voting rights claim, remains under consideration by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the latter a respected European institution which has been widely attacked by British politicians of all parties as well as in the British media and is currently under pressure from the British government to reform, not helped by its most recent ruling in favour of the suspected terrorist Abu Qatada for which it was openly criticised in a recent debate in the House of Commons.
It would be a sad day for British democracy and a tradition of fairness if the controversy surrounding Abu Qatada adversely influenced the British government in its response to the ECHR in the case of WWII veteran Harry Shindler, who claims the right to vote in the country of his birth and for which he put his life on the line in his youth. Mr Shindler is supported in his efforts by an associated campaign centred on the website www.votes-for-expat-brits.com which is pressing for the British government to remove the current 15-year limit on British overseas voters continuing to participate in UK national elections.
Even the Justice Secretary Kenneth Clark has admitted that Abu Qatada will be released because he is not accused of a crime in Britain and the decision has nothing to do with the ECHR. This is because a British judge has now ordered the release of Abu Qatada on the basis of how long he has been held without charge, making it difficult to argue a case for his deportation. His comments followed the ECHR ruling that Abu Qatada could not be deported to his native Jordan to face trial on terrorism charges because evidence to be used against him was obtained by torture. The Justice Secretary added that the British newspapers that attack the ECHR, attack the ECHR all the time when actually the judgment to which they are objecting (i.e. to release Abu Qatada) was by a British judge.
Writing in the expat weekly telegraph of February 15 – 21, 2012 (The Rule of Law is Diminished by Furore over Abu Qatada), Peter Osborne also thought it time that the case was heard for the defence of the ECHR, its decision in the Abu Qatada case having even been attacked as an outrageous assault on British sovereignty. He took issue with the Strasbourg Court having been accused of being an alien institution, hostile to British history, law, freedom and our national identity. The Commons debate of the previous week he described as a day of shame for Parliament, once famed as the cockpit of freedom and justice. MPs were reduced to combining to demand that Britain flout the ECHR.
Mr Osborne reminded us that there is no institution more British than the ECHR, inspired by Sir Winston Churchill eager in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Holocaust to export the British system of fairness and decency. He, therefore, ensured that its founding document was drafted by a British politician, David Maxwell Fyfe, later to become a Conservative Lord Chancellor. Every single one of the great ideas that were embodied in the European Convention – freedom from torture, restraint on the power of the state, freedom under law – was an ancient British principle transferred on to the European stage.
It is also more than 60 years since Churchill made his famous Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri, in which he defended the Western tradition of the rule of law. He said that we must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which……through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, trial by jury and the English Common Law, find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.
Peter Osborne concluded that we should instead be proud that the ECHR, an institution so profoundly British in its inspiration, has refused to send an Arab, Islamic fundamentalist (however terrible his alleged crimes) to Jordan, where he might be tortured or sent to jail on the basis of evidence obtained from a torture victim.
Similarly, the final judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on the voting rights claim of World War II veteran Harry Shindler should be treated with respect by the British government as based on its own principles of fairness, decency and the rule of law.