Law


Charlotte Proudman, a pupil barrister and blogger for the Independent, reports on a conversation with a Muslim woman who was seeking a divorce…

After fleeing a forced marriage characterised by rape and physical violence, Nasrin applied for an Islamic divorce from a Sharia council; that was almost 10 years ago now. Despite countless emails, letters and telephone calls to the Sharia council as well as joint mediation and reconciliation meetings, the Sharia council refuse to provide Nasrin with an Islamic divorce. Why? Because of Nasrin’s sex. An Imam at the Sharia council told Nasrin that her gender prevents her from unilaterally divorcing her husband, instead the Imam told her to return to her husband, perform her wifely duties and maintain the abusive marriage that she was forced into.

A measure of scepticism is always required in cases of anonymous reports but, frankly, Id be surprised if things like this haven’t happened. One need only survey the men who run these courts – “follow the mullahs”, as the old saying doesn’t go – to see what an alarming phenomenon they represent.

Take the Islamic Sharia Council. The largest Sharia body operating in Britain, it’s often been in the news as one or other of its leaders voices horrible opinions yet no one of influence has grasped that there’s a pattern: just about all its leaders have voiced horrible opinions. Maulana Abu Sayeed, the President of the Council and a man who’s been accused of involvement in war crimes in his homeland of Bangladesh, is a man who thinks rape is “impossible” within marriage. Dr Suhaib Hasan, general secretary of the Council, has spoken warmly of the merits of “flogging the drunkard and fornicator”. Haitham al-Haddad, who represents it in the media, thinks that apostates should be killed; FGM is legitimate; spousal abuse is none of our business and Islamic law should become “dominant in the world”. The Council’s own website offers defences of the most brutal interpretations of Islamic penal law.

I’m not an enormous fan of condemnation by quote. (Too often it summons to mind an image of an overdressed, overdramatic woman with a hand stretched out before herself, clutching something malodorous between a thumb and finger.) Yet such quotes and such men deserve the treatment. Their ambitions stretch beyond the power they’ve been given, clearly, but in focusing on that we can see why they should have none. They’ve frankly admitted, among other things, to being untroubled by spousal abuse yet their career is in presiding over marital disputes. That’s sick. Is anyone less suited to a job? Sid the Sexist as a relationship counsellor, perhaps? It’s disturbing to know situations like this are prevalant in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh. It’s horrifying to think that they’re common in London and Manchester.

George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin is disturbing indeed. Despite the fact that the police had warned him not to chase the kid, and despite the fact that he had no good reason to believe he was doing harm, he tracked him down and ended up shooting him in the chest. I can’t know what transpired between their confrontation and Martin’s death but with behaviour like that taking his word as gospel would be shocking and the whole affair should be investigated formally and publically. And, if the police have been careless in their inquiries, they should be investigated. This much seems unarguable.

What’s also disturbing is the fact that people, in their rush to judgements, have shown the reserve of Homer Simpson in a bakery. There are the disgustingly careless Conservatives who’ve described Martin as the aggressor – I’m not sure if it was the colour of his skin or the fact that he’s an object of liberal sympathy that damned him in their minds – but there’s also commentators such as Laurie Penny

Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was carrying a bag of skittles, a bottle of iced tea and no weapons when he was shot dead in Florida last month, and the police have still failed to punish his killer.

Yes, well, I’m rather glad they haven’t punished Zimmerman. Because – y’know – it would be quite frightening if law officials had carte blanche to go around punishing suspects. Kind of antithetical to ideas like the presumption of innocence, the right to defence and, well, the rule of law; all notions that have been compromised and ignored, yeah, but ideas that are valuable regardless.

Penny is reporting on a march in protest against the slaying of Martin and the response of the police…

I spot university professors in hoods, homeless buskers in hoods, journalists in hoods, and one Hollywood actor in a hood – from a few feet away, they all look the same, a menacing mass with justice and vengeance on its mind.

“Justice” I can empathise with and, indeed, applaud. “Vengeance”? Call me a hand-wringing sap if it makes you feel better but that ain’t so cool. To restate – we can’t even be sure if such a wrongdoing has been enacted. I don’t know if the protestors were inspired by vengeful feelings but if that’s something a journalist infers I find it pretty weird that they’re sympathetic. The highest virtue of their career should be truth and that’s what has to be established. That, indeed, is the basis of any worthwhile notion of justice but among the heat of activism it’s dispiritingly liable to be neglected.

The BBC has posted an essay on Sharia courts in the United Kingdom. There are voices of support and opposition to the things – mostly centred on the question of whether they’re biased against women. Me, I’m not just interested in specific views of these atypical arbiters but the ideological basis they’re proceeding from. A witness for the defence is Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad, who’s said to represent the Islamic Sharia Council, the largest Sharia body in the UK…

‘Our cases have easily more than tripled over the past three to five years,” says Sheikh al-Haddad.

”On average, every month we can deal with anything from 200 to 300 cases. A few years ago it was just a small fraction of that.

”Muslims are becoming more aligned with their faith and more aware of what we are offering them,” he explained.

Being a curious soul, I looked up the Sheikh and found an essay on whether Muslims should vote in the UK. It’s a tough question for many of us but ol’ Sheikh H-H doesn’t approach it from the normal angle – that the Tories, Labour and the Liberals are a pretty miserable bunch of options – but the more outre opinion that it might be contradictory to God’s commandments. His answer is that it’s not. But for interesting reasons…

…it is obligatory for those Muslims living under the shadow of man-made law to take all the necessary steps and means to make the law of Allah, the Creator and the Sustainer, supreme and manifest in all aspects of life. If they are unable to do so, then it becomes obligatory for them to strive to minimise the evil and maximise the good.In democratic countries which are ruled by man-made law, candidates from the various parties compete to attain power. Some of these parties or candidates are working against the benefit of humanity (i.e. against the law of the Creator), while the policies of others are less detrimental. Therefore, it is obligatory on the Muslims to utilise all means to promote the candidate who will best ensure the welfare of the people according to Islam, the law of their Creator, to be elected to the decision-making posts.

“The shadow of man-made law”, eh? You’ll be unsurprised to hear that al-Haddad yearns for a time when “the divine system is dominant”. This is not a rare opinion among such legislators. They don’t think their rulings should be limited to civil cases; they’re just the only ones they’ve got. The website of his organisation throws up some intriguing stuff. Asked about statements claiming that “shariah law [is] barbaric“, an anonymous prosecutor responds

Look at the current systems in placed and see their results and compare them to those countries using Islamic criminal law. The results are overwhelmingly supporting for the implementation of shariah law.

They are, are they? This mildly ironic because al-Haddad is quoted in the Beeb’s article as saying that…

If you ban us, then British Muslims will find somewhere else to go.

Many will go to Muslim countries abroad, where there will be no way to protect them.

Anyone who holds the views that al-Haddad propounds is welcome to go to Muslim countries abroad. I’ll go even further: they’re welcome to remain there. There’s hardly a shortage of countries who’ve instituted Islamic law as the basis of their legislation. If they’re so keen I’m sure they’ll have a whale of a time. Meanwhile, though, I’m supportive of attempts to minimise their influence within our society.

A couple of weeks ago I brought up a sad case in Iran where people had fun with a water fight and were promptly arrested and shamed on national TV. Couldn’t happen here, right? Ah, who am I kidding

A man will appear before magistrates next month for allegedly trying to organise a mass water fight via his mobile phone.

The prime minister said last week that the government would investigate whether social networking platforms should be shut down if they helped to “plot” crime in the wake of the riots.

The 20-year-old from Colchester was arrested on Friday after Essex police discovered the alleged plans circulating on the BlackBerry Messenger service and Facebook.

The unnamed man has been charged with “encouraging or assisting in the commission of an offence” under the 2007 Serious Crime Act, police said.

This, along with the bewilderingly ruthless sentences imposed on people on the fringes of the riots, is part of an attempt to reassert the authority of the state after it was so fiercely and successfully defied. It’s a rotten way of conducting justice, of course, but it’s also a symptom of insecurity, not strength. Any powermongering punk can jail a felon once they’ve been detained. The measure of a state people will have any confidence in is how it deals with crime while its ongoing and ensures that it won’t take place again. (And when I say crimes I mean riots, gang wars and killing sprees, not water fights.) To say anarchists should be heartened and statists disturbed by harsh punitive sentences may be going too far but it’s interesting nonetheless.

I must preface this comment by saying that the Guardian article it’s extracted from details the case of a woman who’s been prosecuted for false accusations of rape but maintains she wasn’t lying. If that’s true, of course, then her conviction is an outrage and should be overturned, as should that of any convict who can prove their innocence (or, indeed, whose guilt can’t be established). I have no desire to stir more dirt into those waters. Yet snuck into the piece is this mysterious quote…

We know of 30 women jailed for so-called false allegations of rape in the past 12 months,” says Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape. “Such prosecutions must be stopped. It is a galling diversion for women to be jailed when the vast majority of rapists are not – 90% of rapes are never reported and only 6.7% of those that are reach conviction on a full charge of rape. The prosecution of women and the disproportionate media coverage they get are putting rape victims off reporting and leaving all of us more vulnerable to attack. Is that what they want?

If a charge was merely for wasting police time I’d be inclined to say it shouldn’t be pursued. The consequences of a rape victim being falsely convicted on such grounds is horrible enough that the squandered time is worth enduring.

On the other hand, if a person is accused of rape and there’s good reason to believe the accusation is malicious I think the wronged party deserves justice. After all, if you’re accused of rape it could destroy your life as surely as the worst of crimes – exposing you to prosecution and degrading you before your friends, family, employers et cetera. Longstaff says these actions dissuade people from reporting rapes – though it’s beyond me whether that’s fact or speculation – but if there was no backlash associated with false claims it would incentivise them. The no-win nature of such arguments is just one reason why crimes should probably be viewed on their own demerits.

Perhaps those who sympathise with Longstaff should consider how they’d feel if charged with rape. A failure to empathise with the victims of such deeds smells, in fact, of privilege.

According to Sky’s Martin Bruntwe’ll probably never know the how, why or who” in the death of Gareth Williams. The inquest has been postponed for the second time and policeman seem to be implying that they’ll never make arrests. The “Mediterranean couple” that we’re told we’re loitering in the safe house Williams resided in are claimed to be untraceable. Some safe house.

Unusually,” Brunt reveals, the anonymous spooks who’ve given evidence to the inquest were interviewed by counter-terror detectives who’ll report back to the homicide police. This despite Scotland Yard’s insistence that the death was “not linked to his work”. The increasingly bizarre and evermore suspect attempts to make us feel his private life was strange enough to lead to ruin don’t inspire faith. Nor does the secret service’s meddling in the inquiry. Let me put it this way – if you wander through your house and note a curious, unpleasant smell emanating from a room, then see a friend or family member standing in a corner with their arms thrown wide and feet and legs clamped rigidly together, well, they might be innocently practicing a back exercise. But you’d be forgiven for wondering.

Dear r’s, indulge me while I moan. I have no startling theories or wondrous facts to offer you. No bold argumentation; nor a vein of joyous humour. O’, dear r’s, I can’t even produce a photo of some cats. Pretty much the average fare at the Hôtel de Locus, then. Just with a spot more whine.

There is no justice in this country. Oh, sure, it’s acknowledged here and there but there’s no overall notion of principles to unite our state and selves. It’s absurd, perhaps, to think there ever could be, yet no less disgusting to see how much powermongers favour their own kind. In terms of fitting gravity, the shit runs downhill. Last week the Guardian reported that Britain is teeming with war criminals: literally hundreds of the bastards have drifted through our lands. Now, the Conservatives passed laws ensuring it was far more difficult to move to prosecute such knaves. An observant commenter at Liberal Conspiracy has found the press release with which those rulings sailed forth…

…the system is open to possible abuse by people trying to obtain arrest warrants for grave crimes on the basis of flimsy evidence to make a political statement or to cause embarrassment.

In the past, attempts have been made to obtain warrants to arrest visiting foreign dignitaries such as Henry Kissinger, Chinese Trade Minister Bo Xilai and Tzipi Livni, former Foreign Minister and now leader of the Opposition in Israel.

One can’t help but marvel at the big blue balls on these people. Kissinger, for one, is man that top Conservatives invited to this sceptred isle to lavish with their admiration. Yet the trouble is that he’s a bonafide war criminal whose bloody prints have stained nations across the globe. Worse, some impudent rascals persist in exposing it. So, to save his blushes – and his arse – they pronounce the truth off-limits. They can’t have us disrespecing a made man.

The media are no help, of course. The BBC – which commentators seem to think is our final bastion against the threat of Murdoch and his brood – produced an item on the News of the World‘s phone-hacking. It’s a vile case that shows, as if we didn’t know, a disregard for principle amongst the grasping wretches of our press. But what gimlet-eyed truthseeker did the Beeb choose to present it? Why, Alistair Campbell! A man whose lies, arrogance and bullying made him the equal of his one-time capofamiglia Robert Maxwell.

In pro-wrestling there are “faces” and “heels”. The former are the good guys and the latter their depraved opponents. Heels will get up to all manner of colourful wickedness before faces emerge to beat justice into their skulls. Once the fans are bored of that they often just swop places; past deeds are forgiven and swiftly forgotten. It’s hard to spot the difference here. Andy Coulson is a lowly hack compared with Campbell yet as the media ponders absolution for its brothers’ sins it’s considered proper for this guileful thug to be his judge. What’s going on here? Elitism? Naturally. Cynicism? Well, of course. Tribalism? Too obvious. The Ndani might be vicious warriors but – hey – they’ve got standards.

Blargh.

Today’s arrests of over 100 members of the Cosa Nostra has sparked so much vicarious arousal one can almost hear Alabama 3 booming from press offices. To be fair, it is intriguing. For example, we’re told by The Independent that…

The US Attorney General showed the significance he attached to the sweep by travelling to New York himself to publicise it. In his remarks to reporters, he pointed in particular to charges that will be brought against Bartolomeo Vernace, a Gambino captain, for his alleged role in a double shooting in the Shamrock Bar in the Queens district of New York in 1981 that started “with a spilt drink”.

Some light googling turfed up a Judge’s remarks from 1999, when it seems Vernace was first tried. For all the Mafia’s etiquette has blessed it with a modicum of cultural affection the shooting was just thuggery that could afford to drink in bars. (Note, incidentally, the Judge’s pulp fiction style: right down to the shot that – to Kingsley Amis’s distant pleasure – positively “rings” out.) The scene: a New York bar. A young man spills his drink into the lap of one Frank Riccardi’s girlfriend…

Riccardi is hot and the intervention of John D’Agnese, one of the co-owners of the saloon, only raises his ire. D’Agnese is left with no recourse but to “86″ the unruly patron. Riccardi and his date comply with the owner’s command to leave, but before he exits Riccardi threatens: “I will be back!”

Unfortunately, Riccardi is true to his word, and some 20 minutes later he, and two other men, push their way into the crowded bar seeking vengeance. Violence has arrived and death will soon follow. Shoving D’Agnese against a pinball-type bowling game, Riccardi and one of his two accomplices are engaged in roughing the owner up when a gun shot rings out. John D’Agnese has been fatally shot and his friend and co-owner, Richard Godkin, is seen running across the room to offer his assistance. He is apparently unaware of Riccardi’s second accomplice, standing armed and silent along the wall. The gunman is quick to react and the act is repeated. Richard Godkin has also been shot and, he too, will expire that morning.

To the Judge’s pained displeasure the police barely tried to search for Vernace. Despite gaining a name for and identification of him…

sources of legitimate inquiry…were inexplicably avoided. How the experienced detectives failed to run a check of the DMV…is without explanation. Nor was it established to what extent, if any, the police department and/or District Attorney prevailed upon the FBI for assistance in finding the man who was indisputably known to them. After all, the defendant had not gone underground. He was seen at the so-called “wise-guy joint,” and at the Patio Club in the company of Ronald Barlin. In addition, the evidence at the Singer hearing established that he would later be observed at an establishment known as the Vita Café. If the police were really so unsure of his whereabouts or hangouts, why was a “pink-card” not issued for Vernace as it had been for Riccardi?

The Judge concludes that this inaction wasn’t likely to have been mere incompetence…

…the credible evidence adduced at the Singer hearing left this Court with the distinct and unalterable conclusion that a conscious decision was made, very early in the investigation of the D’Agnese-Godkin homicides, not to prosecute the alleged third member of the trio of perpetrators.

Claiming that the evidence didn’t justify the years that had elapsed since the murders in the Shamrock Bar the Judge regretfully dismissed the case; musing that “living by the rule of law is sometimes difficult“. One can only speculate as to whether some new revelation has emerged: the suspected murder weapon it’s noted was “lost”, perhaps. Or they could be hoping for a less inhibited prosecutor. Or a decent story.

Interest in the Mafia isn’t just voyeurism. What distinguishes them from yer average dealers, pistol-whippers and extortionists isn’t their mere suits, wisecracks and baffling nicknames: families are self-sustaining entities within their states; unrestrained by the ethics and laws that others cleave to. They’re not criminals fixated on their crimes alone; they’re parties acting in their own self-interest. Traditionalists. And, heck, realists. So, at one time they helped G.I.s as they stormed through Italy. They can go from threatening unionists on run-down waterfronts to dealing in the loftiest corridors of power.

I don’t see the Cosa Nostra as romantic figures. People who challenge the strictures of their states will get no love from me if it’s to form a whole new brand of violence and conformism. But their case raises an interesting point. It’d be silly of us to force dichotomies onto contemporary warfare, where divergent parties can oppose or ally with eachother with no lasting feature or principle to split or join their causes, and it can also be wrong to separate “crime” and “law” into dualistic moral factions. As this little snapshot might imply the motives of each party aren’t always distinguishable let alone trustworthy. And as history confirms they might be hard to bracket or, indeed, to separate.

These being items of topical, local and thematic interest…

After all those sneering, leering news reports and salacious commentary pieces we’re told that Gareth Williams wasn’t killed as part of a “kinky sex liason“. Well, if that’s correct it’s no surprise: it always sounded unlikely. One hopes that the press will learn a lesson before dribbling on the scenes of future killings but, of course, they won’t.

So, what’s the new idea? Well, the Police are now claimed to believe that Williams might have died “while taking part in a bizarre experiment for an art project“. Right. The theory is that he climbed into a bag and zipped and locked it shut as part of research for a course entitled “Fashion Design For Beginners“. His tutor is not amused…

The police did come to see me. The idea that his death and his work on the course was linked is a crazy idea that the police dreamed up. They said it might relate to it but I can’t see how it relates at all.

To be frank, nor can I. For all that there was scant evidence that Williams was into bondage an enthusiast for sado-masochism would at least have a clear motive for getting in the bloody bag. Meanwhile the Police have delayed their inquest. One fondly hopes that this is really due to “new twist[s]” they’re investigating and not, say, the need to dream up yet another story.

Those of you who’ve followed my pieces on Lockerbie may not be too surprised to hear that there’s been no real progress. In a culture of frenetic, fevered news updates one might imagine that important things can be distinguished by how much airtime and column space they’re given. This is a bit like thinking you can winkle out the deepest insecurities of a person as they’ll always talk about them.

Anyway, the Scottish government first claimed they didn’t have the power to hold an inquiry into Megrahi’s conviction. Now, as hundreds of people and the Scot’s Petitions Committee echo Justice for Megrahi‘s call they’ve admitted that they do have the power to – just not enough for it to be effective. And besides, they add, perhaps thinking if no one’s called their bluff so far they’ll get away with anything, “the Government does not doubt the safety of the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi“.

Alas, as Jim Swire and Robert Forrester note in their reply, not only was the verdict based on meager and largely discredited evidence, it was disputed by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. And if the SCCRC could reach that bold conclusion with the power it wields why can’t the Scottish government? It’s akin to a hulking bodybuilder moaning that he can’t possibly lift a weight while his younger brother gaily juggles with it in the background. Even if the verdict was sincere this is grubby stuff.

It’s sweet how papers think they’re bastions of dissent. Via Medialens I see The Guardian has claimed to have “unmasked” supposedly repentant yet still money-grubbing police mole Mark Kennedy. Er, sorry guys but Indymedia pipped you to the post by a mere ten weeks. Tsh, you go for a coffee and some rascal scoops you right under your nose. Damn parasitical bloggers.

The Home Secretary is briefed on legal highs

Unlike Evan Harris, Imran Khan and others I’m unmoved by government proposals to enact drugs policy without scientific advice. It’s long been clear that they’ll pay no heed to the facts: if they won’t change for the better I’d prefer they dropped the worn pretence. Otherwise it’s just depressing: like a bottomless suggestions box above a fireplace.

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