Guantanamo a ‘shocking affront’ to democracy

The US is guilty of a “shocking affront to the principles of democracy” in its use of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to hold terror suspects, Lord Falconer has said.

The lord chancellor said the British government’s position on the camp “does not detract from the fact that the US is a close and staunch ally of the UK”.

But he made clear he believed that in a democracy the judiciary must be allowed to decide when and if the government has broken the law.

Washington’s attempt to put the terror suspects at Guantanamo, where US courts have no jurisdiction and where the detainees will face a military tribunal, was an affront to this.

“Without independent judicial control, we cannot give effect to the essential values of our society,” Lord Falconer told an audience of judges, politicians and academics in Australia this morning.

The lord chancellor has previously spoken out against Guantanamo Bay, but today’s attack was his strongest yet.

Speaking about the relationship between security and human rights more generally, he accepted that the government must be responsible for deciding how to tackle terrorism, but said judges must ensure that approach is carried out legally.

“The response to terrorism must be conducted in accordance with fundamental human rights principles or we cede to the terrorist,” he said.

“Those principles allow for a balance to be struck between the rights of the individual, and the rights of the community as a whole.

“We must recognise that national security is not a wand which sweeps away human rights, and human rights are not a barrier which prevent a state from protecting itself against those who would destroy it.”

Lord Falconer went on to explain the recent changes introduced to ensure the complete independence of the UK judiciary, which includes opening a new supreme court in October 2009 to take over the role of the law lords in hearing final appeals.

Along with the removal of the lord chancellor’s role as head of the judiciary, it is intended to complete the separation between the executive, legislature and the judiciary.

“There is no longer a democratic constitution which can have the head of the final court of appeal sitting in the cabinet,” Lord Falconer said

He added: “Nor do I think there is a sensible constitution which can have the final court of appeal constituted as a committee of the upper legislative chamber.

“The quality of the court is second to none. But it is an almost invisible court.We seek to make visible to the public and unambiguous to the world that our final court of appeal is separate from our legislature and performs a different function.”