European court 1 UK Home Office 0

The European Court of Human Rights (made up of 17 senior judges – 17, count them- from all over Europe) has ruled that the UK’s determination to keep hold of any DNA it can get its hands on is a breach of human rights.

The whole judgement is magisterially sweet, as reported by the BBC. It’s not on the EC Court of Human Rights’ site yet but you can see some of the details of the case there.

Otimo. Bravo. Wunderbar. Bellissimo. (I’ve run out of pan-European superlatives and have already stretched linguistic capacity too far for these to be exactly right. You get the idea anyway)

It’s a bit embarrassing that the UK has to rely on the House of Lords to throw out 42 detention plans or the European human rights court to challenge creeping authoritarian. But, as a country, we have become so pathetic that we need any help we can get.

A criminal deportation

The UK media is mightily concerned about a court ruling that the murderer of teacher Stephen Lawrence shouldn’t be deported after he’s served his sentence.

The dead man’s wife is reportedly angry about the ruling that he should stay in the UK. She blames the Human Rights Act for the fear in which she claims she will live. The tabloid press are doing their best to stir up all the crime hysteria they manage out of this story. Surprise, surprise, when the tabloids are such devoted supporters of the Human Rights Act… (not.)

The widow of murdered teacher Philip Lawrence has said she was “utterly devastated” by the decision not to deport her husband’s killer.
Frances Lawrence said she had been told Learco Chindamo would be deported to Italy, where his father was from.
The government said it would challenge “robustly” the decision to allow Chindamo, who stabbed Mr Lawrence in 1995 when he was 15, to stay in the UK. (From the BBC)

It’s a really sad story. However,it just reinforces the point in TW’s posts that victims and their families are not always the best judges of how an offender should be treated. That’s supposed to be the job of the law, although the combined efforts of the media and the government are doing their best to present the courts as pampering murderers.

A few facts about this case suggest the issue is rather more complex than the calls to deport him would allow.

The killer is indeed marginally more “Italian” than the average Italian-American but that’s about the extent of his supposed Italianess. His father was Italian. He lived in Italy until he was 3, came to the UK at the age of 6 and committed the crime when he was 15. It is a fair bet that he doesn’t speak Italian.

He didn’t deliberately come to the UK to commit murder. He was brought here by his mother and was raised in the UK, as an English person. Like a lot of English teenagers, he did badly at school, joined a gang and carried a weapon.

The crime appears to have been one of those senseless spur-of-the-moment adolescent-in-a-gang crimes that would be seen as a child’s cry for attention, if their outcome wasn’t so devastating.

He didn’t stalk Lawrence and deliberately choose him as a victim. There is absolutely no reason to believe that he represents any ongoing threat to Stephen Lawrence’s widow or their child.

Although you can usually take prisoners’ remorse with a kilogram packet of salt, he expresses remorse and tries to talk other youths out of throwing their lives away according to his lawyer.

You can certainly understand why Stephen Lawrence’s widow doesn’t want to think of him being free and alive. She has had a horrific experience that will always be with her. I’m sure that she wants to tear the killer limb from limb, as anyone in her position would. All the same, her views on what should now happen to the killer are no more relevant than anyone else’s.

The whole topic becomes murkier when you think about why it has become a bandwagon that the government chooses to jump on.

Extradition to another EC country is almost unheard of. Surely, under EC free movement laws, once dumped in Italy, Chindamo could just jump on a train and come straight back to the UK?

Extradition of someone, who committed a crime as a child, to a country in which he would be a complete stranger is just absurd.

There is pretty strong evidence of racism at work here. The killer looks “foreign” – half Phillipino, half-Italian. Ergo, the assumption is that he can get deported at the drop of a hat. Are we going to start shipping off all released murderers who can’t claim four British-born grandparents? Is there still room in Australia?

There is a clear bias in what crimes become causes celebres. Stephen Lawrence was a headmaster so people paid much more attention, thanks to the media. Murdered manual workers don’t make high profile cases, otherwise the government would be shipping off released murders every week.

All the same, the murderer was sentenced for his crime by a court of law. It wasn’t a particularly light sentence. A judge weighed up the circumstances and applied the appropriate penalty. If anyone felt that the sentence was wrong, that was the time to appeal. The court saw no reason to call for his deportation when he was sentenced. What has changed?

(Even the lawyers opposing his staying in this country argued that media attention was the “threat” that could result from his staying in the UK. No one has suggested that he is likely to kill another person, although rehabilitation seems to be the last of anyone’s concerns.)

There is constant media and political pressure – fitting so well into an increasingly authoritarian general climate – to present any human rights legislation as tying the hands of the police and giving free rein to criminals and terrorists.

The more we treat any constitutional guarantees of fair treatment by the law as an unnecessary luxury, the more we throw aside liberal democracy’s claim to the moral high ground.

This case has become a test of the British government’s capacity to do silly things in defiance of European Human Rights law. Oh, these burdensome 20th century international standards.

Wasn’t the lack of non-oppressive systems of justice and law why the EC started to get sniffy about some Eastern European countries joining? Or keeps foiling Turkey’s attempts to join the EC?