New Leader, Same Government?
The Labour Party, headed by Gordon Brown since June 27 this year, has been in power for more than a decade. When Labour was elected in May 1997, Gordon Brown held the post of chancellor and was regarded as second-in-command of the government. Islamic extremism was on the rise in British campuses and mosques when Labour came to power, but little was done to extinguish it.
One of the government's first laws to be introduced was the Human Rights Act of 1998. This enshrined the terms of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights into British law, trumping all existing legislation. The 1998 Act has been one of the biggest obstacles in countering terrorism. Many foreign terrorists have been allowed to seek asylum in Britain, even though they have been convicted in their home states for acts of terror that have included fatalities. They have been allowed to spread their extremism in Britain, and even plot terror acts abroad, with impunity.
The Human Rights Act has allowed Afghan terrorists and their families to be allowed permanent residence in Britain, and has prevented the deportation of known and suspected terrorists to their home countries, lest they be subjected to torture - a breach of Article 3 of the ECHR. Individuals like Abu Qatada, once described as "Al Qaeda's ambassador in Europe" remains in detention in Britain. Yasser al-Siri, convicted of terrorism and causing death in his native Egypt, walks free in Maida Vale, West London.
In November 2005, the Terrorism Act of 2006 was still undergoing review in the House of Lords (parliament's upper house). Four clauses of the Terrorism Act were opposed by the Association of Chief Police Officers. The controversial clauses were:
Amending human rights legislation to enable easier deportations
Making the glorification of terrorism (including acts of terror outside the UK) an offense
Automatically refusing asylum to anyone linked to terrorism anywhere
Banning Hizb ut-Tahrir and successors to the group Al-Muhajiroun
The only one of these clauses to remain when the terrorism law was finally passed was the offense of glorification of terrorism - Schedule 1, section 1 (3) of the Act. The 2006 Terrorism Act introduced penalties for the first time for engaging in terrorism training, either at home or abroad.
Even though the Human Rights Act 1998 protects the rights of terrorists and other criminals who are not even British citizens, a recent legal ruling declared that old people living in private care homes are not protected by the Human Rights Act.
In this week's Queen's Speech, outlining bills to be introduced during parliamentary session, a new Terrorism Act was mentioned. In all the proposed legislation produced by Gordon Brown's government, there are no reported plans to decrease the terms of the Human Rights Act to make deportations of terrorists or criminals easier, nor are there measures to extend the Act to protect vulnerable elderly people in private nursing homes.
The Queen's Speech was widely expected to show Gordon Brown's promised "vision" for Britain. Various commentators have condemned the "lack of vision" in Brown's planned legislation.
When a major terrorism trial came to its conclusion on April 30, 2007, five individuals were given life sentences for plotting bombings on the UK mainland employing ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The most damaging evidence, which eventually secured convictions, was that produced by secret surveillance by MI5. Bugs had been placed in an apartment belonging to the cell's ringleader, Omar Khyam, and also in his car.
Even though secret electronic and video surveillance evidence is legally acceptable in a British court of law, evidence gained by phone-tapping is not allowed. For decades, successive U.K. governments have legally authorized phone-tapping of individuals. The majority of phone-tapping is enacted through the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), based in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
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