Individual Terrorist Suspects as the New Folk Devil: New Labour, Rights Tokenism and Security Compulsions
Forthcoming, M. Gordon and A. Tucker (eds.), New Labour and the Rule Of Law, 2019 Hart Publications
25 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2019 Last revised: 22 Mar 2019
Date Written: March 4, 2019
On a certain May morning of 1997, a new dawn had broken over Britain. A triumphant Tony Blair was celebrating Labour’s long-awaited victory at the polls. By October of the same year, his government was already working on fulfilling their pledge to modernise British politics and deliver on its commitment for a comprehensive programme of constitutional reform. A key component of this agenda was increasing individual rights by introducing legislation to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law. Yet, by early 2002, the United Kingdom (UK) was the only Council of Europe member state to have derogated from the ECHR under the provisions of Article 15 as a response to the events of 9/11. The derogation allowed for the adoption of certain extended powers of arrest and detention under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA) – an Act was once described as “the most draconian legislation Parliament has passed in peacetime in over a century”. The comprehensive and highly restrictive nature of the provisions and counter-terrorism measures contained within ATCSA set the stage for New Labour’s post-2001 approach towards human rights and national security: a perfunctory or token respect for individual rights in comparison to the exhaustive commitment to counter-terrorism measures and policies. If New Labour’s legislative and policy record on security matters post 9/11 is to be summarised, it would be thus: when faced with a choice between a prompt legislative response to close perceived legal and policy gaps or first exhausting the wide range of legal powers already available within the statute books, the government chose the former. Furthermore, rather than demonstrating a deep commitment to human rights, the legislation and policies adopted from the year 2000 and onwards were more reflective of the following two interrelated considerations: how much interference with various human rights could be proportionate and acceptable to allow for pre-emption of acts of terrorism as early as feasible? Concomitantly, how restrictive can the measures immobilising a terrorist suspect be before they are seen as unpalatable and/or found to be disproportionate? This tokenism has arguably led to the hollowing out of a number of individual rights such as the right to fair trial.
Keywords: counter-terrorism, human rights, New Labour, terrorist suspect, closed material procedure
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation