As the extremist preacher Abu Hamza is finally extradited to the United States, where he is accused of assisting in terrorist offences, it has emerged that Her Majesty the Queen had been privately lobbying the then Home Secretary to arrest the cleric.
What was surprising was not necessarily the extradition itself (which most presumed to be inevitable anyway), but rather that the nature of such an intervention seems grossly inappropriate for an individual whose role is to solely be a representational figurehead. Public debate on the issue has split; the anti-monarchist group, Republic, have argued that the intervention demonstrates the partisan reality of the institution, whilst pro-monarchists feel the event provides further legitimacy for the Royal Family to play a more active role in public life. Regardless of this disparity, the Queen’s intervention is remarkable, purely on the grounds that in voicing her concern, she has ultimately highlighted some of the less considered failures inherent in our public institutions – those of democratic representation and the rule of law.
We should be wary of using Hamza as a way to criticise or characterise these failures. For while Hamza is overwhelmingly guilty of inciting violence and assisting with potentially dangerous activities, the problems that exist with our public institutions go far beyond this hate preacher.
Consider, for example, the less-heard of detainees who will accompany Hamza to the United States, in particular, Babar Ahmad. Mr. Ahmad, having been under arrest without trial since 2004, faces accusations from the United States of being involved with Islamic militant websites supporting Chechen and Afghan insurgents, despite an overwhelming lack of material evidence, and a peculiar demand for a US trial, on the grounds of a computer server location.
One could be forgiven for dismissing this case simply as a point of law- a field where most, including myself, often find themselves lost in its obscurity. Rather, it is perhaps, the failure of representative government in reconciling objective jurisprudence with civil liberty. Particularly, this is evident in the modified 2003 Extradition Act, legislation first introduced by the then home office minister, John Denham. Initially designed to make the process of extradition easier between nation states, in the political context of the ‘war on terror’, it found itself a powerful instrument to conduct ideological politics.
The challenges of confronting modern terrorism, made more complex with copious international networks, has also presented opportunities for certain nations to strengthen their ‘special relationship’ both through mutual objectives and greater judicial compliance.
In the case of the United Kingdom and the United States, the aims of strengthening the ‘special relationship’ have come at the expense of common law; despite assurances by the United States that it would adhere to the 2003 act, twice, British foreign secretaries have had to apologise to Parliament in cases relating to inhumane torture and rendition. In 2008, the select committee on foreign affairs expressed concern about the continuing assurances of the US in complying with the extradition act, given reports of continuing interrogation.
Most recently, in the cases not just of Babar Ahmad, but also Gary Mckinnon, Talha Ashan, concern has been expressed by numerous legal and political bodies around both the nature of their alleged crimes, as well as the evidence being used to prosecute them. Yet, senior members of the British government have not responded to these trepidations, instead opting to comply with American extradition requests. Hence, as the accused now head to the United States, they may face an even longer detention without trial, before confronting the worst of all punishments.
Whatever we think of the Queen’s involvement in Abu Hamza’s case, her inquiries do raise important concerns we should have over the health of our public institutions today. For, what ultimately lies behind the caricature of the ‘hooked man’, is a vicious infection within British law and democracy. And while this may suit politicians in the short term, we should let neither more Babar Ahmads, or the integrity of our public institutions, be sacrificed to entertain political point scoring.