The BBC reports that DUP MP Gregory Campbell has criticised the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commissioner for raising concerns about the situation of currently detained terror suspects in Northern Ireland.
Monica McWilliams has noted, quite correctly, that the facilities in the Serious Crime Unit in which the arrested people are being detained are not suitable for long-term detention. Mr. Campbell responds by sneeringly questioning the Commissioner’s work, saying she is “inordinately concerned about the rights of those who are under suspicion of very serious crime”.
He goes on to say that ” for the most part I think most people will be content at the length of time these people are being held”.
Mr Campbell utterly misses the point Ms McWilliams has sought to make, and it is particularly sad to see an MP fail to grasp the issue of human rights, detention and facilities. 28 day detention aside, Mr. Campbell seems not to understand that what most people think is utterly unimportant and beside the point of whether facilities are adequate for the purpose of long-term detention. if we’re going to detain people for 28 days, the conditions have to be gotten right.
The test of a good and just society is not just the justice meted out to the bad guys; the processes used to achieve a robust and safe society have to meet some standards, which, in a society with high regard for justice, have to be set very high indeed.
Getting convictions is important, and showing terrorists we have little regard for their actions and no tolerance for their methods is vital in a just society. We get that by securing a fair and a just conviction and operating a fair and humane trial system. When we have them bang to rights, we punish and rehabilitate them, we remove their freedom, and we protect our people from having to suffer them, for a period we establish in law.
What we don’t do is find people we think probably committed the offence and then let a police force extract a confession from them. It might be good enough for some people, but it isn’t good enough for British justice, and it’s not good enough for people who understand what the freedoms and rights available to British citizens are and what they mean.
The PSNI is an excellent force, with a genuine and palpable commitment to human rights, and we should all be proud of the progress they have made in becoming a force for good in our new Northern Ireland. They should be resourced to do their jobs effectively, and they should, if necessary have their facilities upgraded to cope with the frankly crazy 28 day detention dispensation; officers will want that, the community will agree with that, and the Human Rights Commissioner would surely welcome such a commitment.
The Commissioner summed it all up best when she said: “whole point about human rights is that you are tested when you are defending the human rights of people you may not agree with”.
The commissioner said this particularly related to those in detention as “that is often when you have to protect human rights at the highest level”.
Or not, if you’re Gregory Campbell.