Thursday, June 12, 2008

Politician Does the Right Thing

The British Parliament recently emasculated the right of a prisoner to habeas corpus in the name of fighting terrorism. One Conservative MP, who is shadow Minister of Justice, is resigning so that he can run for his seat on the issue of the new law. David Davis appears to be a man of principle. Such men are lacking in every country. We need more of them.


Perpetua said...

Would you mind explaining this a little more for your non-attorney readership? It seems important to me, but I don't really understand it.

Historically it has been the liberals that were concerned about civil rights. But, at least in the America these days, it seems to be the conservatives that are concerned about the civil right of free speech. And now it seems that conservatives are also taking a lead in the issue of illegal detention?

Matthew said...

If I understand the intricacies correctly, when a party is out of power in England, such as the Conservatives are right now, they form a shadow government with certain prominent members of parliament of their party taking an interest in and receiving the occasional briefing from certain governmental departments. In this instance, Mr. Davis was Shadow Minister of Justice, so he was in charge of keeping his party in touch with all matters legal in England.

The current government recently passed a law that lengthened the amount of time a prisoner may be held without appearing in front of a magistrate. If memory serves it was 21 days and now it is 42 days.

By way of contrast, in Georgia it's 72 hours.

Whejn Labour put forth the change, the Conservatives objected. As did some of the Labour party itself. However, many people feel the Conservative party didn't object all that much. Regardless, the bill passed and was made law.

Mr. Davis apparently feels that this is an important issue. So much so that he is breaking party ranks and possibly endangering his political career. It is entirely possible he is doing for publicity purposes.

Anyway, he is resigning his post in Parliament. This means there will be a special election in his district (a by election in Britspeak). He intends to run for his seat in that election. His sole issue is the repeal of the new law.

In essence, he is calling for a mini-referendum on the change in laws.

To my knowledge, I've never heard of an American politician doing such a thing.

I hope that helps.

Perpetua said...

Is the right of "habeas corpus" the right to appear before a magistrate and have some particular charge read against you? I looked on Wikipedia, but I wasn't sure if I understood.
Is this like the Kafka story The Trial?

Matthew said...

Yes. If you file for a writ of habeas corpus, then the government must either charge you or set you free.

It's important because otherwise a policeman could arrest simply because he didn't like your shoes and you'd be stuck in durance vile.

Either before or during a bond hearing you find out what charges are being brought against you. The magistrate sets bail and there you are.

One of the proper criticisms of our government is that the men being held in Guantanamo Bay have never been charged with anything. There was a Supreme Court decisions handed down on one of them very recently, so it looks as though the Administration will either have to charge them or let them go.