Political expediency and the basic principle of a fair trial

Share
Related Topics

It is gratifying to learn that the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, believes there are certain judicial principles that cannot be compromised. Gratifying, too, that he includes the right to a fair trial in this category. Are these not precisely the sort of judicial fundamentals that the Government's senior law officer is appointed to uphold?

It is gratifying to learn that the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, believes there are certain judicial principles that cannot be compromised. Gratifying, too, that he includes the right to a fair trial in this category. Are these not precisely the sort of judicial fundamentals that the Government's senior law officer is appointed to uphold?

But we draw particular satisfaction from hearing Lord Goldsmith apply this reasoning to the plight of those detained by the US authorities at Guantanamo. Speaking yesterday, he said that Britain's refusal to compromise on this principle of a fair trial was why Britain had been unable to accept the military tribunals proposed by the US authorities for the Guantanamo detainees.

What is extraordinary, given that the second proposition follows so logically from the first, is that it has taken this eminent lawyer so long to draw the connection so definitively in public. To be sure, we have heard something like this general principle expressed by him before. And we have heard the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, insist that the military tribunals, as proposed by the US authorities, would not provide "the process which we would afford British nationals". But yesterday was the first time that we had heard the Attorney General use the full weight of his office to declare the military tribunals unacceptable.

This is, of course, a welcome development, and one that means there can, at last, be clarity between Britain and the US on the fate of the Guantanamo detainees, even if it is clarity of disagreement. But what took him so long? It is more than two years since nine British citizens were airlifted from Afghanistan to Cuba, in a move that lacked any authority whatsoever under international law. Justification was questionable even under US law; a ruling is awaited from the Supreme Court. Five Britons have since been released, but four remain, two of whom have been listed among the first likely to face a military tribunal.

Lord Goldsmith has spent months of his valuable time shuttling between London and Washington, trying to negotiate an acceptable solution. And initially, perhaps, when there was still hope that all nine Britons would be released, discretion was the wiser course. Since the five were released, however, there has been no excuse for the Attorney General, or anyone else in the Government, to keep silent. Were Britain holding even one US citizen under similar circumstances, we can well imagine the outcry from across the Atlantic.

The detention of more than 600 prisoners at Guantanamo, without charge or trial and effectively without rights, is an offence against all the judicial fundamentals invoked yesterday by Lord Goldsmith. But it has been from the start. It is tempting to conclude that what has changed is not Lord Goldsmith's regard for the law, but the political climate. Now that Mr Blair and his ministers consider it politic to distance themselves from President Bush, the Attorney General has finally denounced the iniquities of Guantanamo. If the principle of a fair trial is sacrosanct - as it is - it should never have been shrouded in silence for the sake of political expediency.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam