Human rights and handcuffs

Posted by on 03 October 2011

Our Human Rights Act has been variously blamed for terrorism, rioting and almost every ill bar global warming. Now the oddities of privatised public services are added to the list.

GEOAmey has a contract to provide custodial services, transporting suspects from the police station to the magistrates’ court and then remand prisoners from the magistrates’ court to prison. But something went wrong on a day that they were required to transport a suspect the short distance from Banbury Police Station to Banbury Court; no local vans were available so the company had to dispatch a van from Southampton to collect the suspect, delaying the hearing of his case.

And what does the company’s spokesperson do when challenged about what happened? Why, the usual defence of the embattled public service provider – blame the Human Rights Act.

Wouldn’t it have been better to explain how the mess-up occurred and why no van was available locally? If it is the case that their contract means that only GEOAmey can transport suspects and that this has to be by van, wouldn’t it have been fair to say so? Shouldn’t the spokesperson have explained whether it is the company or the taxpayer that bears the cost of such mess-ups?

Instead, the company provided ammunition to those, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary included, who want to scrap the Human Rights Act and won’t pass up on an opportunity to take a pot shot at it.   

There are good reasons why we don’t walk suspects in handcuffs through the streets from the police station to court. Remember Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s “perp walk” – he was paraded into court in handcuffs in front of the world’s media. There was shock on this side of the Atlantic that someone who had not been found guilty (and against whom charges were ultimately dropped) could be treated in this way. This treatment flew in the face of his right to be presumed innocent – a cornerstone of British justice as well as one of the fundamental principles laid down in the Human Rights Act.