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Issue 17 - December 1973
Straight From The Parrot's Mouth
It's happening again, the government are taking away yet another civil right without anyone seeming to notice. The deadline for the government to renew the right of individuals to petition the court of the European Commission of Human Rights in Strasbourg is only two months away, and yet there has not even been any discussion of the question.

Last week the NCCL started a campaign to try and make sure that at least this right doesn't vanish like so many have done. If the government does deny the right, they'll be one of the four (out of 15) States in Europe who refuse to accept this principle, in fact it'll be the most repressive step since Greece withdrew from the convention to make sure its political prisoners had no rights of protest.

There are two types of case normally dealt with by the Court, which doesn't have any power to enforce its rulings; any state may make a complaint against another which it believes is interfering with its liberty, and any individual may bring a case against a state which is denying their human rights. Recently Britain has featured as the baddy in a lot of cases of both types; in the 22 years of its operation the Commission has only had four cases of state v state, and two of these complaints have been laid against Britain. This includes the case by the Irish Republic alleging torture by the Army in Ulster. The vast majority of cases have been petitions by individuals, in fact 6,000 as against 4 by states.

Although Great Britain has been a member of the Human Rights Convention since 1951, the government have only agreed to the rights of individuals to petition since 1966, it would be a shame for such a recent step to be so quickly negated, just to save embarrassment to a not very just (that's being kind) government. As we might expect, that stronghold of civil liberty, the Home Office, has never been too keen on the idea, and is even less so now because of the number of cases the Court has had to deal with concerning harsh immigration laws and the flagrant infringement of human rights by Britain's persistent armed intervention in Northern Ireland. Typical of cases being brought forward by individuals is that of a prisoner who complained to the Commission about the prison rule which prevented him writing to his solicitor about injuries received in prison. As a result of his case the prison rules were changed. Well, we can't have common criminals dictating the law to us, can we?

Up till now the government has made no statement of its intentions, as recently as 24 October they refused to reveal their intentions, despite a number of questions by MPs. If they won't even tell Parliament, you can imagine what kind of mischief they must be plotting!

The NCCL have sent an open letter to Heath, without any sign of a reply, there have been articles in the leading newspapers (even in this one now) and MPs have agreed to help in this campaign. It is desperately necessary to have at least some authority beyond that of government which is prepared to defend the individual against the might of the state. Start asking questions now before it's too late. It's not the first 'inalienable right' they've had a go at, and I don't suppose it'll be the last.

It's been a strange month for all of us who can remember '67 and '68, when Flower Power and hippies blossomed in Britain along with IT, OZ, Sergeant Pepper, the Floyd, pirate radio and lots an' lots of dope. First of all, IT finally bit the dust with a severe attack of financial dysentery. It had been a long illness. Then IT's former arch-rivals returned to the scene (what's left of it) with the long-rumoured last issue of OZ. Published by Felix Dennis' company, H Bunch Associates, this 'final' edition features pieces by the other OZ badboys - Jim Anderson and Richard Neville - plus some interesting articles, good graphics, reviews and gossip. At 30p, not fantastic value, but it's a nice issue and makes you nostalgic for the days when the revolution seemed just around the corner. Definitely the end of an era.

Sir Robert Mark's recent comments on doing away with trial by jury and restricting suspects' rights during police interrogation must surely put him in the same class as would-be fascist Brigadier Kitson.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner's remarks have also shifted the spotlight away from the far from satisfactory method of investigating complaints against the police. At the moment these complaints are investigated by the police themselves behind closed doors, but the National Council for Civil Liberties has now come up with detailed proposals for the establishment of an independent tribunal to oversee all stages of the complaints procedure.

Where allegations of a criminal nature are the subject of a complaint, the tribunal would require the police to make an investigation and would then pass on the papers to the Director of Public Prosecutions. If the DPP decides not to prosecute, the complainant would then be able to pursue his complaint through the tribunal. Both the complainant and the police officer(s) against whom the complaint is made would be entitled to publicly-financed representation before the tribunal, which may report its findings to the chief of police and the Home Secretary and make appropriate recommendations. Where the tribunal finds a consistent pattern of complaints emerging which gives serious cause for concern over police practices, the tribunal would have the power to investigate general matters of policing in that area.

Nowadays, with the police more and more often standing in the dock themselves and with broad hints being handed down that they want more and more powers in dealing with suspect 'criminals' it can only be hoped that the NCCL's suggestion receives the attention it deserves. As Martin Loney, NCCL's General Secretary puts it: "It is clear that in some areas, particularly in parts of London, police relations with the community are at an all time low. The present complaints procedure which gives the police the role of prosecutor, judge and jury, has failed to satisfy many complainants and done much to undermine public confidence."

Durham Claimants Union are again asking for donations to help brighten Christmas for OAPs. Last year we had a very good response, and this year we hope to double the amount given last year. Anyone wanting to help by sending a donation, large or small, please make it payable to Muther Grumble, as the Claimants Union has no bank account.

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