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March 28 2006

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,200-2107733,00.html

Leading lawyer attacks Blair's 'insidious' human rights reforms

By Barney Henderson

A LEADING radical Queen’s Counsel has launched a stinging criticism of the Government over what he called its "insidious" reforms and manipulation of the law.

Michael Mansfield, QC, talking at the Oxford Literary Festival, delivered a systematic attack on the way in which recent reforms have cut back civil rights on a domestic and international scale and claimed the Prime Minister had become arrogant and corrupt.

The latest such bill, he said, was the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, currently being debated in committee. The QC said the bill will allow ministers to amend or introduce laws without sufficient scrutiny from MPs, and will do away with the checks and balances provided by the legislature.

"The Government has skirted over its significance, but this bill will enable politicians to change the law without the House of Commons. It's centralism gone mad, saying there is no need for a debate, no need for opposition.

"This Government has shown a disregard for the due processes domestically and internationally that have taken hundreds of years to achieve."

On the Terrorism Act, Mr Mansfield rejected both the need for 90 days detention and the ‘glorification’ offence, which he said violated freedom of speech.

"The threat and perception of terrorism is being used to structure human rights in the UK. It is a grotesque bill."

He claimed the definition of terrorism as "the use of threat or force to bring about the end of a regime" is never discussed because the states are doing it themselves.

"Walter Wolfgang [the heckler at the Labour Party conference] was removed ... under the Terrorism Act and a lady was arrested and convicted in Whitehall under the same Act for reading out the names of the Iraq dead. It is the use of laws in relation to freedom of speech to control the public."

Mr Mansfield called into question Tony Blair’s respect for international law, saying the Government was often prepared to "turn a blind eye" on matters of civil and human rights abuse.

The barrister expressed concerns about the growing use of torture and claimed the Government’s position was unacceptable.

"We’re going back to trial by torture. Allowing CIA flights across British air space with suspects on board nailed to floor by their feet is horrendous. The US think they can ignore the Geneva Convention and we are colluding with them. Turning a blind eye was how fascism prospered in the 1930s."

On Blair’s "Respect Agenda", Mr Mansfield claimed: "Respect for the law should begin at Number 10 before Blair preaches it to others. With the ASBO culture he has introduced, he is attempting to get around the courts and breakdown the checks."

As a result of the war in Iraq, the QC said, people did not believe that voting mattered.

"We are on the road to an unhealthy democracy with a centralised, controlled media and no accountability. The only way to reverse the trends is to use the democratic means available and not re-elect them."