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British report
by Euro Reporter
2013-12-10 12:15:21
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'Strasbourg not superior to British courts' says former senior judge

The Human Rights Act should be amended to make clear that Britain’s courts are not inferior to the European judges in Strasbourg, the former Lord Chief Justice has said.  Lord Judge, who stepped down as England and Wales’ most senior judge at the end of September, mounted a forceful defence of the British legal system and warned the European Court of Human Rights had “erroneously” begun to gain supremacy.  Deploying highly-charged language which would have been unthinkable during his 25 years on the bench, Lord Judge said decisions on controversial issues such as prisoner’s voting rights should not be “exported” to a “foreign court. In my view, the Strasbourg court is not superior to our Supreme Court,” said Lord Judge.

“This is not a pro- or anti-European stance. It is a constitutional issue which has never had to be faced in our jurisdiction.”  He said it would “make sense” to amend Labour’s Human Rights Act to specify that “the Supreme Court is, at the very least, a court of equal standing with the Strasbourg court”.  The legislation should also be changed to make clear the Supreme Court is not required to “follow or apply” Strasbourg’s decisions, he added.  In a speech at University College London, Lord Judge said issues such as prisoner voting rights and the whole life tariff for murderers - both of which have been subject of highly controversial Strasbourg rulings - were a matter for Parliament and not the courts.  “My personal belief is that sovereignty on these issues should not be exported, and we should beware of the danger of even an indirect importation of the slightest obligation on Parliament to comply with the orders and directions of any court, let alone a foreign court,” he said. “Ultimately, this is a political, not a judicial, question. Our judiciary will continue to apply properly enacted legislation.”

Lord Judge’s intervention came as political debate intensifies over Britain’s relationship with the Strasbourg court.  Parliament is currently considering a range of options on Britain’s response to the European court’s ruling that a blanket ban on prisoners voting in election is breaches human rights laws.  Lord Judge added: “It is important to emphasise that [Strasbourg] has never been granted the kind of authority granted to the Supreme Court in the United States of America. “Nevertheless ... the court appears to be assuming or seeking to assume the same mantle.”  It comes a week after Lord Sumption, a Supreme Court justice, said the European Court of Human Rights was exceeding its legitimate powers, usurping the role of politicians and undermining the democratic process.  Lord Justice Laws, a Court of Appeal judge, also said last week that Britain should stop deferring to Strasbourg on every issue and that treating its ruling as authoritative was an “important wrong turning in our law”.


British armed forces 'could be run by awoman'

The British armed forces could be run by a woman one day, the nation's most senior female military officer has suggested. In her first interview since being promoted, Air Vice-Marshal Elaine West told Sky News the military is modernising to mirror society and insisted the UK is not out of date by preventing women from fighting on the frontline. She said: "I wouldn't say we are. It might not be absolutely everything, but we are making progress and we are reflecting what is going on in society. "We've had fast jet female pilots for a number of years going back to the nineties. We have people in Afghanistan at the moment who are there both in the medical profession, but also aircraft mechanics who are flying. "We've got females now who are flying Apaches. We're about to have females coming through to go on submarines on active service. So this is truly an evolving situation."

However, despite more jobs being available to females, only 67% of jobs in the Army are open to women, although the RAF (96%) and Royal Navy (71%) are more inclusive. The armed forces are exempt from the Sex Discrimination Act which is why they are able to restrict women from serving on the frontline. Asked if she could foresee a day when a woman is appointed Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Vice-Marshal West believed it possible. She said: "Why not, why not? You wouldn't rule anything out would you? We're evolving with the rest of society, we're no different to outside industry and there are opportunities." Air Vice-Marshal West's appointment as the country's first two-star ranked woman was announced in August. She is now responsible for projects involving the Ministry of Defence's infrastructure estate, from accommodation buildings to runways and dockyards. Since joining the RAF 35 years ago as an Aircraftwoman, the lowest rank, she has served in a variety of jobs around the world. Her husband was formerly a navigator in RAF fast jets, but has since left the service. The couple have one son and Air Vice-Marshal West does not accept the idea that a woman must make a decision between a family or a career in the military.

She said: "There are girls I know at the moment, colleagues, who have more than one child, who juggle a huge amount more than I do. "Yes I had one child, but it is all about work-life balance. "I think the armed services can provide that. It's challenging, there are occasions when maybe I don't quite get it right. But you know it works and it can work." Women are still a minority group in the British military. The latest diversity report published in October shows that females make up 9.8% of the regular forces. There are 8,340 women in the Army, 3,010 in the Royal Navy and 4,950 in the RAF, the largest proportion of all three services. But Air Vice-Marshal West said she had never worried about a glass ceiling for women in the military. She said: "I've never worried about it. If there has, gosh, I've never truly thought about it. I think it is fair to say that people in the military are promoted on merit and that's really important. "I don't know anybody, certainly colleagues of mine, female colleagues of mine, that would wish to be promoted ahead of the pack without being promoted on merit. It's really important with that merit goes credibility."


British major threw laptop with sensitive Iraq photos from ferry

A British army major disposed of a computer that may have contained photographs of the bodies of Iraqis killed by the British in disputed circumstances by throwing it into the sea from a ferry, a public inquiry heard on Wednesday. James Rands was appearing as a witness at the Al-Sweady inquiry into allegations that British troops executed and tortured Iraqis in the aftermath of a battle near the town of Majar al-Kabir in southern Iraq on May 14, 2004. The allegations, made by local Iraqis and denied by the soldiers, would, if confirmed by the long-running inquiry, go down as some of the worst atrocities of the Iraq war. Rands, a captain at the time, was an intelligence officer based at Camp Abu Naji, a military base where 20 Iraqi bodies were taken after a fierce gunfight, the British say.

Rands took photographs of the bodies which are now one of the key items of evidence in the inquiry. They are still available despite the ferry incident because copies had been made of them prior to the disposal of the originals. The state of the bodies and the reason why they were at Camp Abu Naji are central issues in the inquiry because Iraqi witnesses say some of them were taken alive and later executed at the camp, and that some of the bodies were mutilated.

The British say all of the dead were killed on the battlefield and transported to the camp for the purpose of identification, because there was a suspicion that an insurgent leader whom they had been trying to arrest was among them. The wanted man, Naseer Zachra Abd Rufeiq, was suspected of a central role in the murder of six members of the British Royal Military Police in Majar al-Kabir the previous year and was known among the British as "Bravo 1".


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