'Draconian' terror law attacked by head of Bar

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The Independent Online

The new leader of the Bar, a founding member of Cherie Booth's human rights law chambers, has attacked the Government for making "menacing noises" when judges rule against the Government.

In his first speech as head of the barristers' professional body, David Bean QC says he is also opposed to the methods adopted by the Home Secretary in getting the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill past the House of Lords.

But it is David Blunkett's hostility to the judiciary that has attracted Mr Bean's fiercest criticism. He will tell the Bar Council today: "I am also concerned by the menacing noises which have come from some ministers or their spokespeople when the courts reach decisions of which they do not approve."

Many of the rulings that have drawn ministers' fire have been critical of the Government's immigration policy. Earlier this month the High Court declared it illegal to fine lorry drivers who are caught with stowaways in their vehicles.

Mr Blunkett also showed his displeasure when the same court said detaining asylum-seekers in special centres was incompatible with human rights laws. This decision was later overturned on appeal.

Mr Bean, a senior member of Matrix, the new human rights chambers he shares with Cherie Booth QC, said: "This is not unique to the present Government: similar noises used to be made when Michael Howard was Home Secretary ... The pattern suggests to me that the judiciary have been doing their job properly."

Mr Bean said the anti-terror law, introduced since the 11 September attacks, contained "draconian powers" that should not have gone before Parliament. He said: "The House of Commons is largely acquiescent. The House of Lords protests. Concessions are made by dropping or amending clauses that should never have been in the Bill in the first place. It is not the first time, and I fear it will not be the last."

Mr Bean also urges the Government to draw back from its proposals to curb the right to jury trial or to implement the more radical recommendations contained in Lord Justice Auld's review of the criminal courts: "If the Lord Chancellor and Home Secretary were to promote such legislation, it would surely be that, rather than the Human Rights Act or anything else, for which historians would remember them."

Mr Bean also addressed equal opportunities in the profession, a subject close to Ms Booth's heart. Last year, she called on the Bar to make itself more accessible to working-class students and to end the domination of white, middle-class males. She said it was not unusual for trainee barristers, or pupils, to have debts of £10,000 andone owed £20,000.

Mr Bean said: "The long-term prospects for the Bar will only be good so long as we ensure that newcomers to the profession really are the best and the brightest, and not simply those who can afford it."