Sunday, 22 February 2015

“To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice.” Chapter 40 of the Magna Carta

I wanted to say something about Magna Carta. Eight hundred years ago, on 15th June 1215, King John agreed to, and signed this landmark document, that began to codify laws and legal issues for the very first time in UK history. The start of English Law, some might say.

Quite incredibly, in my opinion, there will be constitutional festivities being held from 23rd-25th February to celebrate Magna Carta, in some way to champion how great the Rule of Law is in Britain today. This summit is supposedly “A unique collaboration between the UK Government, the Legal sector and the City of London.” The focus being: how great is our interaction between the law and business here in the UK.

I don’t doubt that this is true and wonderful for the Commercial Law Sector, but at what
cost to the Criminal and Civilian sectors? David Cameron’s Conservative Government is intent on dismantling access to justice for the needy, the poor, the destitute and for all prisoners, who without the financial riches to pay for legal assistance, either teach themselves law, or live without much legal protection. A situation the UK should be ashamed of, the State effectively thumbing its nose at Magna Carta and a universal, all-encompassing system that protects everyone both rich and poor from exploitation by others.

As if that appalling situation is not bad enough, the Government is hell bent on watering down protection for people’s basic human rights as well. I have written recently about the Conservative Parties proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act, if that is, they are re-elected in May this year. Cameron and Co want to remove the mechanism for enforcing our basic Human Rights, the very thing that prevents the abuse of the vulnerable by the powerful.

However, we don’t have to wait for the Conservatives to be re-elected for this sorry state of affairs to be enacted, it is in operation right now. The Government took away Legal Aid funding for so many legal cases by recently slashing the Legal Aid budget by tens of millions of pounds.

An example of this policy and its effect upon a vulnerable group of people is that prisoners can no longer obtain funding to enforce prison rules. The lives of all prisoners currently in UK prisons, almost ninety thousand of us, are controlled by rules called Prison Service Instructions (PSI’s) and Prison Service Orders (PSO’s). These are the laws that control every aspect of how staff can interact with prisoners within the prison system. Now that Legal Aid funding has been removed for enforcing PSI’s and PSO’s, all prisoners are vulnerable should any staff member fail to act within the constraints of the PSI’s and PSO’s in place to protect them.

Similarly, prisoners Human Rights cannot be protected when there is no funding for a lawyer to mount a Court case to ask for that legal protection, and prisoners are not alone in this. The poor are also finding it harder and harder to make use of the UK’s legal system to seek protection when their Human Rights are being abused. This means that vulnerable witnesses can face the accused questioning them in the witness box because many defendants are not entitled to Legal Aid and face defending themselves in court.

The spirit of Magna Carta can hardly be celebrated eight hundred years on, when the universal protection of all UK Citizens in the eyes of the law, is being undermined by a Government determined to introduce policies that place many millions of it’s citizens open to exploitation by gang masters, bullies, abusers, the mean and anyone else with the will and power to do so, and that is wrong on every level.

The sorry state of the UK’s Criminal and Civil Law Sectors that should protect these citizens makes this ‘Global Law Summit’, in celebration of Magna Carta an insult to what Magna Carta should now stand for. Accordingly, I’m in total agreement with Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, who told the Guardian:

“This event has been promoted by a Government which had decimated access to justice. As a Human Rights Campaigner, my place is with the protesters.”

I’m also in agreement with the protesters, access to justice must be for everyone, just as Human Rights protection must be for everyone. As we celebrate eight hundred years since the signing of Magna Carta, at Runnymede, on the banks of the Thames, we should consider how we’ve allowed David Cameron and his Government to make legal protection available only to those who can afford it. That to me isn’t in the spirit of Magna Carta. Surely, the law must be accessible to everyone.

Jeremy



Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Jeremy's 54th Birthday Blog

"I’ve just watched the film ‘Quartet’ on BBC two. I was in the middle of writing on a different theme, but as this is loosely based upon or around my 54th birthday it seemed germane to share some of my thoughts about ageing.

I’m not sure that I know what it is to grow older. I’m not saying that I don’t understand the process because I do, but it’s so hard for us to see it in ourselves and yet we watch as our friends grow old around us. My experience of ageing is just the same as it is for everyone else I’m friends with. The reason I know we’re growing older is that we’ve started talking about it a lot more during the last three of four years of discussions—in our thirties we never did.

As with the subjects we talk about here, there has to be a point to it that feels significant enough for someone to read it. So often friends and supporters write to me saying how sad it is that I’ve now spent almost thirty years wrongfully imprisoned—this will be my thirtieth birthday behind bars—or they feel I’ve been so unlucky in life.

Of course my life would have been different in every way had this tragedy not befallen my family and me, but in what ways it would have been different is completely unknown. Would I have even made it to my 54th birthday?

For the most part, the last thirty years have been kind to me on many levels. The film ‘Quartet’ that I’ve just watched underlined for me what I and many others believe to be the true font of happiness—to be loved by someone who you love equally in return. If you are lucky, that situation happens when you are young and lasts a lifetime, as it has with two of my closest friends. It may be, as you are reading this, that it hasn’t yet happened and the person who will love you as you love them is still but a dream for the future.
 
I don’t want to ruin the film ‘Quartet’ for you but it’s a love story that takes place between two residents in a retirement home. The point being that we simply don’t know when true love might strike. For the characters it’s quite late in life, but the joy of true love salves emotional pain like nothing else and more to the point brings a state of happiness beyond anything else known to man. I believe that makes living almost blissful and utterly complete. If it’s not happened to you yet, it will do, maybe tomorrow, maybe next year. There is no telling when cupid’s arrow may strike.

Going back to why life has been kind to me, it’s because I feel loved by so many people in all kinds of different ways—people who allow me to love them equally in return. What would be perfect for me right now is for Justice to prevail so that I can enjoy true love as a free man.

The good news is that Justice may indeed be on its way."


Jeremy

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Jeremy Bamber on The Human Rights Act.

I am beyond shocked by David Cameron’s pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act if he becomes Prime Minister at the next election.  The United Kingdom was one of the first countries to give formal consent to the European Convention of Human Rights in 1951, when it was passed through Parliament, championed by Sir Winston Churchill.

We live in a democracy that is loosely based on utilitarianism, i.e. the belief that the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people should be the guiding principle of those that rule us.

I know certain cases ruled upon by the European Court of Human Rights have upset many people because they seem overtly wrong. For instance, the idea that prisoners can vote.

The media seem to think that once a person goes to jail that they should never be permitted to be a citizen again upon their release. Yet more than half of all those currently in jail will be free within five years. Why, upon their release, should they not have a voice with which to speak with a Member of Parliament? If they should be permitted to talk with an MP, then why shouldn’t they have a right to choose whom that MP might be. Simply missing the election because of being in Jail shouldn’t prevent them choosing their MP.

Being holier than thou over this appears irrationally prejudicial. But I do agree other odd cases that have won in the ECHR need to be vetoed in some way. Nevertheless, to do away with human rights could certainly have an impact on the liberties we currently enjoy, without even being aware of it. I wanted to go through the Acts with some discussion on how these Articles might impact our lives if they are taken away and not replaced with a closely fitting alternative under the Tories proposed, “British Bill of Rights.”

This is the agreement by the Signatory Countries that they will secure the rights of their citizens as stated in the following Articles within their jurisdiction.

The Right to Life will disappear. At the moment everyone’s right to life is protected by law. When this is not in place the State can exterminate its citizens if it so chooses as Pinochet did. On September 11th in 1973 General Pinochet seized power of Chile in a bloody military coup. In almost two decades of his dictatorship he became notorious for his abuse of Human Rights. Under his rule, more than 3,200 people are known to have disappeared or been executed, with thousands of others being detained, tortured or exiled. Article 2 prevents human rights abuses on this scale happening in Europe.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The media often reports on alleged British involvement or complicity in torture and rendition sometimes conducted by the USA.  In 2012 a criminal investigation into M16 officers involvement of torturing Libyan dissidents, under Tony Blair’s leadership, was carried out. More recently, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the US Senate has produced a report on torture of suspected terrorists. Malcolm Rifkind has requested access to redacted passages of the report, which might detail the UK’s part in breaking Article 3 of the Human Rights Act. More commonly, in countries outside of Europe, appalling acts of torture still happen. The UK has always prided itself on having the highest standards of human rights. I’m afraid all this would slide without Article 3 in its current form, and incidents of the UK becoming involved in torture would become more frequent. 

Between 1971 and 1975 the authorities in Northern Ireland exercised a series of extrajudicial Powers of Arrest, detention and internment of terrorist suspects.    Arrests and convictions during this time included The Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and the Birmingham Six, all later proven to have been wrongly convicted.  Although the claims of torture and police brutality they endured were not brought before the European Court of Human Rights, many more were, including the ‘Hooded Men Case’, where it was found that five interrogation techniques were used on suspects. This included forcing detainees to remain standing ‘spread eagled’ in stress positions for hours on end, putting hoods over their heads, subjecting them to loud continuous noise and deprivation of food, drink and sleep. The European Court of Human Rights held that these techniques caused, if not actual bodily injury, at least intense physical and mental suffering, and were humiliating and degrading.  As such, the UK was held to be in breach of Article 3 by allowing its security forces to use such techniques.

 Abolition of this Human Rights Law would mean the State could force those they wanted to work for nothing. Everyone knows slavery is wrong, but abolish human rights and what’s in place to prevent the State enslaving a section of its citizens to work for nothing should it so choose?  Modern day slavery takes many forms and occurs in many more countries than you could imagine. The victims are the most vulnerable in society, women and children forced into prostitution, migrants trapped in debt bondage, and sweatshop or farm workers, usually foreign nationals, who are paid little or nothing. This does not just happen in third world countries but also here in the UK. Without the protection of Article 4 it’s worrying to imagine how the money hungry could exploit British Citizens even more in this way.


This means the State shall be forced to justify depriving a citizen of their liberty and entitling citizens to take proceedings against the State by which the lawfulness of his or her detention shall be speedily decided. Without Article 5, the police could arrest and detain a suspect for however long they choose.  This Article also ensures that if you were to be arrested, the charges against you would be explained promptly in a language you understood, and a trial held within a reasonable period of time.

This Article also protects the rights of people in hospital, and in care homes, particularly people who have mental health problems.

The State already wants to do away with juries in some cases. It also allows certain evidence to be concealed from a defendant using Public Interest Immunity (PII). This is acceptable if it is used correctly, but if the police/lawyers choose to abuse PII without article 6, the fairness of a trial would undoubtedly be lost. 
This seems an obvious thing, but without human rights, the State could simply punish a citizen if it wanted to, without them having broken any laws. For example, because he or she is part of a minority group. UK Human Rights Laws have already been eaten away by terrorism bills, so that suspects can be held in prison or under house arrest for many years without charge, or knowing what the evidence against them is. This erosion to civil liberty is already having an effect on our society and without Article 7 it will get worse.

David Cameron often speaks about his love of family life, but without Article 8 the State could choose to interfere with a citizen’s family unit. Either someone British born or an immigrant could be affected, for example, if as a family unit it might not fit with the States ideals. Without this Act in place, prisoners could be denied the right to have contact with their families. The impact of this on the children and relatives of those in prison would be huge, not to mention hindering the rehabilitation of prisoners. Currently, prisoners are denied photographs with their family. The prospect of a child growing up without photographs of its father or mother could result in unimaginable upset to the child and subsequently cause untold damage to that child’s sense of identity.

Article 8 also covers areas such as respect for your sexuality; the right to make choices for yourself; respect for private and confidential information; the right not to be followed or recorded by the Government; the right to have confidential, unlimited communication with others; and the right to control how information about your private life is shared. These are all vital and basic rights that everyone should have.


Without human rights the State may choose to punish people whose thoughts and beliefs they don’t agree with. Citizens might no longer be allowed to choose how they behave based upon their conscience. For instance, being a vegetarian could be banned by the State. Furthermore, the State could abolish certain religions and force its citizens to practice a religion that it has chosen. The Spanish Inquisition shows how things can go so terribly wrong. The Spanish Inquisition held some parallels to Nazi rule. It was a group within the Roman Catholic Church, which tried to suppress heresy. Baptized members of the Church who held opinions contrary to the Catholic faith were systematically tortured and executed, simply for following a different religion.

The media should beware. No human rights, and citizens can’t speak about what they choose; therefore the press can be completely controlled. Freedom of Speech allows us to voice our opinions, no matter how strong, verbally or in writing. We can use social media to express ourselves, such as Twitter, Facebook, via E-mails or through public speaking, to name a few. Fortunately there is a limit on this, and freedom of expression does not, allow you knowingly to reveal information given to you in confidence, nor can you say anything that would threaten public safety, national security, or undermine the legal system. This means however strongly you feel on an issue, you cannot for example, encourage people to commit crime, incite a riot or display expressions of racial or religious hatred.



Without our human rights there will be no right to march against the issues people believe in and no gathering together of like-minded people. If the State doesn’t like it, then if it chooses, without human rights, the state will prevent it from happening. Earlier this year, thousands of Solicitors and probation workers staged numerous walkouts and marches in protest at the Government’s decision to cut £215 million out of the annual criminal legal aid budget, cuts that would affect every UK citizen. These people protested under the Freedom of Assembly and Association Law.

It seems such a basic human right, but without it, the State may choose to stop any type of marriage. For example, it could prevent UK Citizens from marrying those from other countries.

At the moment, the State is held accountable, and there’s always a method by which citizens can seek remedy if the State gets it wrong or fails its citizens. There may be certain things done by the State that are above the law. Perhaps medical negligence, for instance, the NHS might become exempt from official scrutiny. In the UK, people who have had their convictions overturned are seldom entitled to compensation. They’re innocent enough to be released but not innocent enough to be compensated by the State.

Particularly shocking are cases where there’s police misconduct but no compensation is offered.

Another example might be that if a prison officer damaged the personal property of a prisoner but there is now no recourse for the prisoner. This might be okay with some people, but the same applies on the outside. If the police damaged your property for whatever reason, maybe they crashed through a water feature in your garden while doing a car chase, there would be no way you could recoup compensation.

All our rights and freedoms contained within the Human Rights Act must be protected and applied with no discrimination. This simply means that the Human Rights Act is there for everyone, irrelevant of age, sex, race, colour, language, religion or sexual orientation.

Derogation in Time of Emergency; Restrictions on Political Activity by Foreigners; Prohibitions on Abuse of Right and Limitation on use of Restrictions on Rights. These four rights set out when and why certain human rights can be modified or set aside, such as when a country is at war, or during such times that emergency situations threaten the lives of the nation.

David Cameron thinks it’s a vote winner to tell British Citizens that they no longer have these rights. Maybe you agree with him, but at least if you’ve read this you will have had the opportunity to think about it a little more. Human rights are often essential to the most vulnerable members of our society or those who are in minority groups. From my perspective, I often see and feel how extremely vulnerable prisoners can be, and more so recently without Legal Aid to help them fight injustice.

Important thoughts for us all this New Year.

Jeremy.

Content Research for Jeremy Bamber by Yvonne Hartley.
Developmental edits by Sarah Hanover. Proof reading by Heidi Hawkins.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Jeremy's 30th Christmas in Prison

I wanted to write something about this being my 30th Christmas in prison. I had enjoyed just twenty-three Christmas celebrations before coming to Jail. I’ve talked about this time of year before and I wanted to recall a different aspect of it to share with you here.

Firstly, and I find this very hard to even admit, as each year passes I’m finding it harder to recall emotional memories of how it was outside during this festive period. I’d always believed those feelings of such intense happiness that I had experienced celebrating Christmas at home would remain with me, but sadly, as I grow old in prison so the memories have begun to fade.

Secondly, these fading memories make me feel ashamed as if I’m letting down my deceased family in some way. It seems odd to say this, and I’m not sure if I can put this into words properly—It’s as if somehow my fading memories of Christmas can be explained by saying they cannot have been as happy as I have portrayed them to be. Yet they really were happy times. Especially so when Daniel and Nicholas reached the age of two. The boys loved being at the farm at Christmas, we’d all sit around the kitchen table and make decorations. Colin and Sheila were both artistic so they out shone the rest of us by a country mile. But we’d spray paint pine cones with cans of gold and silver, and put together long lengths of paper chains whilst testing the quality of each batch of freshly made mince pies that mum kept taking out of the oven. The game was to distract mum’s attention in some way so that dad could palm a couple of mince pies off the cooling rack without being noticed, then pass them to each of us out of sight under the table. It seemed such great fun, and they did taste all the better for being obtained by stealth. I don’t doubt that mum knew exactly what was going on but played along because it was such fun.

Christmas celebrations in prison were once upon a time quite jolly affairs with the wings being decorated and a tree would go up too. The food from the hotplate/server would be a bit different and appropriately festive. We’d even be given little treats like a chocolate bar, a can of pop and a tangerine. Perhaps we’d put on a play and there would be various Christmas competitions where small prizes could be won. This sort of Christmas fun had almost completely disappeared by the end of the 1990’s for various reasons including cost cutting.
 
Christmas is now seen as just another day in prison, a milestone to be ticked as one less Christmas to do before the sentence is over. That does not apply to me.

I just feel blessed that I’ve stayed alive to see another Christmas pass knowing that this Christmas day I’m about to spend in jail could and should be the last one that I have to endure in here. It is such an odd feeling to think that I’ve endured 30 Christmas days but the facts now show that I should not have spent a single Christmas in prison.

I would like to wish all of my friends and supporters a happy Christmas in person and maybe next year I will be in a position to do this, I hope so. I’m going to stop here as it’s making me a bit depressed.

All the best for Christmas and New Year.


Jeremy


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