The Law Society Gazette has published an interview with Labour MP for Tooting and Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan. In the interview, Khan muses on the role of the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act; the Government’s proposals for ‘secret courts’, and his identity as an Asian Muslim in politics.
From the interview:
“Sadiq Khan was in characteristically energetic mode at the Labour party conference recently, headlining fringe events on criminal justice, youth offending and human rights. Last week he paused for reflection at Portcullis House opposite parliament, allowing the Gazette an opportunity to ascertain how far Labour has progressed with justice policy ahead of a general election expected in 2015.
“The former human rights solicitor and rising star of the Labour Party became MP for Tooting in 2005. Gordon Brown appointed him minister for communities and local government in 2008, and minister of state for transport the following year. Khan thus became the first Asian – and the first Muslim – to attend cabinet.
“As a former human rights lawyer, Khan believes passionately in the Human Rights Act. He dismisses Cameron and Grayling’s ‘noises off’ about scrapping the act in favour of a bill of rights, asking, almost derisively, which rights they would seek to omit. ‘What really amuses me, though, is that they don’t understand their own history,’ he adds. ‘The European convention on human rights (ECHR), on which the act is based, was drafted by Winston Churchill and British lawyers.’
“He points out that the act brings the ECHR into domestic legislation and means British citizens do not have to go to Strasbourg and wait decades before they can assert their rights. ‘If it didn’t have the words “human” or “rights” or “European” in, I suppose they’d be happy with it,’ he quips.
“Khan’s own party has a mixed record on civil liberties and his own voting record is instructive. He voted against his party on the issue of 90-day detention within six months of becoming an MP, but in favour of ID cards and the renewal of control orders. Explaining the seeming inconsistency, Khan says politics is about compromise. But he does accept Labour made mistakes and sometimes got the balance between civil liberties and national security wrong. The challenge in opposition, he says, is to evaluate that record and learn from it.
“It is perhaps because of those mistakes that Khan is circumspect in his approach to the Justice and Security bill, which seeks to extend closed material procedures into the civil justice system, including inquests. The proposals would permit secret court sessions, where evidence is seen only by the judge and special advocate, who cannot share the evidence with their client. If the evidence is deemed by the government to be against the public interest, it will not be disclosed and will remain secret.
“The government argues that without the changes, foreign countries will be unwilling to share information because of the risk that it will end up in the public domain or that intelligence officers may be forced to give evidence in open court. However, counters Khan, open justice is a central pillar of the country’s legal system and underpins public confidence in the courts. He questions where the evidence is for change, asserting that measures are already at the disposal of judges to ensure national security is not compromised.
“The burden, he says, should be on the government to justify why the current system is not adequate. He has an open mind on the issue, he adds, but so far the government has not persuaded him.
“As a practising Muslim, he has come under attack from some quarters over his support for two constituents, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, in their fight against extradition to the US to face terrorism charges. Khan campaigned for the pair to be tried in this country.
“As an Asian too, he has suffered indignities during his career, such as being mistaken for the defendant rather than lawyer in court, but says he never talks about being a victim in case it discourages others from seeking to pursue similar goals. He is, he says, British, a Muslim and an Asian. He is also a Londoner, a husband, a father, a Liverpool fan and an MP. And in his well-cut and fashionable suit, Khan gives the impression that he wears all these identities with ease.
“It may not be stretching things too much to suggest Khan is a credible candidate to become the first Asian and the first Muslim prime minister.”
On the extradition of Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, Khan recently wrote to the Home Secretary asking for an explanation on the difference between the handling of their extraditions in comparison to Gary MacKinnon.
The full interview with Sadiq Khan is available to read here.
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