It is tempting to cheer the European Court of Human Rights’s ruling in the case of Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton. They have been awarded £30,000 in compensation on the grounds that the powers used by the police to detain them at a protest outside an arms fair in Docklands six years ago were illiberal. It is a depressing little tale of how legislation passed by Parliament to fight terrorism has been hijacked by the police for everyday policing. But also a depressing reminder of where legal sovereignty in Britain now lies.
We have, in Parliament Square, a new building entitled the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. A lawyer looking for a wheeze should consider instigating an action under the Trade Description Act, because supreme it isn’t. England is not sovereign over its own law. England’s most senior judges are not just wigless; ultimately, they are trouserless too. Any citizen who does not care for their judgment can go off to Strasbourg in search of a more favourable ruling from Britain’s real supreme court.
While this magazine cheers the thwarting of the ridiculous anti-terror laws, the overall principle is more menacing. Last February, for example, ECHR judges awarded £2,500 in compensation to Abu Qatada, a terror suspect convicted in absentia in his native Jordan for conspiracy to bomb two hotels. The clash of terror legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights may end up creating a dangerous limbo if the man described by the law lords as ‘Osama bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe’ were to be released on to the streets of London.