Leading article: In defence of the judiciary

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The Independent Online

This relates directly to the Government's plan to deport Islamist extremists resident in Britain back to their home countries, despite the fact that most of these countries in question have a shameful history of torture. Such deportations have been illegal until now since article 3 of the Human Rights Act prohibits torture. But the Government claims to have got round this by obtaining requesting guarantees from countries such as Jordan and Algeria that anyone deported will not be subjected to inhuman treatment.

Clearly, the Lord Chancellor anticipates that Britain's judges will find these guarantees wanting. And he is probably right. For one thing they have no legal force. They represent nothing more than a salve to Britain's conscience over sending people to countries where they are likely to be tortured or killed.

Lord Falconer attempts to justify tampering with the Human Rights Act by asserting: "All law operates on the basis that if the facts change, then the law changes." But this is quite wrong. Britain is governed by unchanging legal principles. Sending people back to face torture was illegal before the 7 July terror attacks and it is illegal now. It is important to note that it is already part of the remit of the judiciary to consider national security. The Human Rights Act compels judges to bear in mind whether Government acts are proportionate to the objective they are intended to achieve. Yet the first duty of judges must always be to safeguard civil liberties. This attempt by the Government to exert political pressure on the judiciary to reorder its priorities must be resisted.

It is instructive to contrast the grandstanding by politicians in recent days with the clinical, unfussy way the police have gone about charging those involved in the attempted London bombings of 21 July. This is the only way to defeat terrorists: by charging them and those who aid them in the courts.