The distinction between the legal order in Western democracies and the tyrannies of Stalinist Russia or modern China or the Arab gulf states, is often thought to be stark. In Britain in particular, we are complacent that 800 years of the common law will protect us against the overreaching power of state functionaries.
Today comes a case that shows this conceit to be ill-founded. It was already widely known that the Home Secretary would like the power to lock anyone up for seven weeks on her say-so. But it is not in effect yet, and is likely to be opposed in parliament. Who knew that the British state is already punishing 70 people with effective suspension of all their economic rights on mere accusation, by freezing their assets by Treasury order without any legal warrant or process?
The Terrorism (UN Measures) Order 2006 and the 2006 al-Qaeda and Taleban (UN Measures) Order were made under section 1 of the 1946 UN Act in order to implement resolutions of the UN Security Council. These orders are not parliamentary instruments but “orders in council” – the council in question being the Queen’s Privy Council, so that the rules under which (according to solicitors for the victims)…
We have the madness of civil servants checking Tesco receipts, a child having to ask for a receipt every time it does a chore by running to the shops for a pint of milk and a neighbour possibly committing a criminal offence by lending a lawnmower.
…have not troubled parliament even under the pathetic ‘negative resolution’ procedure by which most of our law is now made. Nor has any judge or other independent authority been in involved in these seizures or assessed the evidence (if any) that justifies them. Nor is there any time limit. Or need to bring charges to support the indefinite punishment.
Which remains, though the learned judge found it entirely illegal, indefinite:
Jonathan Crow QC, for HM Treasury, had told him the UK government would be left in violation of a UN Security Council order were the orders to be quashed immediately.
The Treasury said the asset-freezing regime and individual asset freezes would remain in place pending the appeal.
A spokesman said the asset-freezing regime made an “important contribution” to national security by helping prevent funds being used for terrorism and was “central to our obligations under successive UN Security Council resolutions”.
To which I say, and not for the first time, damn the UN. Neither the UN nor Treasury officials are supposed to make our law. And if this proscription stands, then we might as well have no law.