A centuries-old pillar of British justice is too good for some UK citizens, according to that Great Briton Boris Johnson (who is descended from a Turk).
He wants Britain to abandon the core governing principle of its legal system – the presumption of innocence in UK law – so that people who travel to “war areas” such as Iraq and Syria may be presumed to be potential terrorists unless they can prove otherwise.
This means that people who go to war zones for humanitarian reasons would be labelled as terrorists, along with those who travel there to find lost relatives and bring them home, if they don’t notify the authorities first – and there are reasons why people might not want to do that.
It also means countries like Iran would have more advanced legal systems than the UK – Iran has the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven enshrined in its constitution.
Johnson reckons “the law needs a swift and minor change so that there is a ‘rebuttable presumption’ (which shifts the burden of proof on to the defendant) that all those visiting war areas without notifying the authorities have done so for a terrorist purpose”. Minor change?
Fortunately we do not need a change in the law to prove that this means Boris Johnson is an evil-minded arse.
Already fellow Tory and former attorney general, Dominic Grieve – who was allegedly ousted by David Cameron because he did not support Conservative-led changes to Legal Aid that would have made justice available only to the rich – has made it clear that Johnson’s idea would undermine British legal values.
How, exactly, is anyone supposed to prove that they did not cross borders to deliver supplies to terrorists or receive training in terror tactics?
James Ball, writing in The Guardian, states: “Recent history recounts in great and dismal detail the consequences of Johnson’s ‘simple and minor’ change: Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Bay.
“Camp staff were told in classified documents that ‘[t]ravel to Afghanistan for any reason after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 is likely a total fabrication with the true intentions being to support Osama bin Laden through direct hostilities against the US forces’. No matter if your detainee says they were visiting family, supporting NGOs, working with religious groups, or even – in some cases – supporting coalition forces, travel is deeply suspicious.
“’Travel to Afghanistan for charity reasons or to teach or study Islam,’ the document warned, ‘is a known al-Qaida/extremist cover story without credence.’
“Another sign someone is a terrorist, the US government said, was them telling you they were not. If the sleep-deprived inmates, who often had mental health issues, answered the questions slowly, this was also evidence they were a highly coached terror suspect. Even wearing a Casio watch – one of the world’s bestselling timepieces – was ‘the sign of al-Qaida’.”
It’s a Catch-22. According to this logic, anyone returning from a country where terrorists are active who claims they are not a terrorist must be – according to the authorities – a terrorist.
Wikipedia has it that “one connotation of the term is that the creators of the ‘catch-22’ have created arbitrary rules in order to justify and conceal their own abuse of power” and that “rules are inaccessible to and slanted against those lower in the hierarchy” (which is, of course, the intention behind Chris Grayling’s changes to Legal Aid).
So Boris Johnson wants to impose another abuse of power on those of us who cannot fight it.
That’s business as usual for a Tory.
Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike
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