British Justice delayed? Abu Hamza and Kenyan torture victims

As Abu Hamza is extradicted to the US after a long process, those in Britain who complain about the delay should be ashamed of decades of procrastination over the crimes of its Empire.  

“Justice delayed, justice denied!”  This adage became the constant refrain of the media and politicians as the extradition of Abu Hamza (along with four other terrorist suspects) entered its final stages.  Quite how appropriate the adage is to the Hamza case is open to debate.

In August 2004 Hamza was arrested and then ‘de-arrested’ on terrorism charges, but kept in prison while the US extradition case was being developed. He was kept in Belmarsh, which is a high security not an ordinary prison, from May 2004 onwards. Then, the British authorities began their own criminal proceedings. On 7 February 2006, he was found guilty on eleven criminal charges and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment.

As the threat of extradition to the US remained, he appealed in 2007 to the European Court on the grounds that he would face inhumane treatment in the severe US prison system if he were sent there. This led to a major cause of ‘delay’ as in July 2010 the European Court temporarily blocked his extradition while it considered his case. Last month it finally ruled that he could be extradited. Meanwhile he remained in prison after the completion of his British sentence.

Quite what ‘denial’ of justice took place is hard to fathom. He had a right to appeal against being held without parole in the punitive conditions of an American prison. So his case was entirely justifiable even though the ECHR does take an unconscionable time to hear and determine cases.

If the implication of the demand for 'justice' is that he should be imprisoned, then Hamza was kept incarcerated throughout the eight year process. There was understandable frustration on the part of the authorities at the domestic legal and the ECHR process and the costs involved but they way this is being reported is little more than cheap anti-Europeanism with the implication that left to Britain alone there would be less delay and more justice.

“Justice delayed, justice denied!”  Surely the adage is more appropriately deployed in the case of the three Kenyans, tortured by British colonial authorities during the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s? But for some reason our politicians and media haven’t expressed any outrage at this frustratingly long process.  The British government has constantly attempted to keep documentation in their case confidential and even recently argued that their case should be denied because of the lapse in time since then. British delay in this case meaning there should be no justice at all.

The High Court has just ruled that the case can proceed, and as I write, the government may very well appeal – delaying justice even further for them and those of other Kenyans and other victims of colonial torture from Cyprus, Malaya, Palestine and the Yemen, even beyond the lifetimes of the elderly victims.  A fourth Kenyan claimant, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, has already died earlier this year.

The government initially argued that all liabilities for the torture by colonial authorities were transferred from the British State to the Kenyan Republic upon independence in 1963 and that it could not be held liable now. The Kenyans’ lawyer, Martyn Day, accused the government of “hiding behind technical legal defences for three years in order to avoid any legal responsibility. This was always morally repugnant”.

Indeed, the British authorities have a tradition of delay and denial of justice in their handling of similar cases.  In July last year the Ministry of Defence was defeated in the Supreme Court, in its attempt to shrug off liability for cancers, skin defects and fertility problems among former service personnel related to the 1950 atomic bomb tests in the Pacific and Australia in which they were involved. In this case again the official argument was that the lead cases in the campaign for justice had been brought beyond the legal time limit.

The Kenyan and nuclear test victims are simply the most prominent of a large variety of cases where the British state, seeks to deprive men and woman of compensation that they are due. Whether the motive is to save money, or reputation, or defend a cover-up, the time must come when Britain's official reaction is based on criteria of natural justice and human rights - and prompt action to ensure redress where it is justified.

For while there was ineed too long a delay in the case of Hamza's extradition, when it comes to talk of justice perhaps the British media and officials could recall their New Testament where Matthew warns to judge not lest you be judged - as the mote in the eye of European proceedures is as nothing to the beam in their own.

About the author

Stuart Weir is founder of Democratic Audit at the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex, and co-founder of Charter 88. He is a consultant to the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust on the State of the Nation polls.