The primary Human Rights document in the United Kingdom is the Human Rights Act 1998. The Human Rights Act 1998 received royal assent on November 9, 1998 and came into force on October 2, 2000. The objective of said Act was to harmonize the domestic law of the United Kingdom with the European Convention on Human Rights and to provide for stricter human rights guarantees to be followed by all states. The provisions on free speech, freedom of assembly and due process all impact heavily on the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom.
On the other hand, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in November of 2001, a mere two months after the historic 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Criticized by many for the undue haste in its passage, with concerns of political pressure being raised, the law in its original form contained passages that human rights groups deemed to be violative of established human rights principles. Amidst the outrage surrounding the 911 attacks, the Anti-Terror Law was heralded as a measure to combat the worldwide phenomenon of terrorism and to arrest its spread and development. Legal scholars and free speech advocates, however, unite in condemning the law for trampling constitutionally-protected liberties. There is also the possibility that the law might give rise to or at least encourage racial profiling, particularly the provisions on proscription of terrorist organizations. It might further alienate minority groups and exacerbate the political violence by radicalizing "moderate" groups.
Human rights advocates scored a victory when the Law Lords ruled that a provision in the Law allowing the indefinite detention of foreign terrorist suspects was contrary to human rights principles. Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, in his ruling, said: "Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law." This decision was reached when nine detainees lodged their appeal before the Court. Indeed, due process is a fundamental principle of human rights.
Criminal justice in any mature society always involves a balance of two competing interests: the need to protect the rights of the accused, and the need to combat crime and instill peace and order in society. "Legally, a crime is any act or omission proscribed by the criminal law and thus punishable by the state through the criminal justice system" (Davies, Croall and Tyrer, 2005) Legal systems in the civilized world - whether in civil or common law jurisdictions -- have, at least in theory, given primacy to the rights of the accused, understanding that ambiguity should be resolved in his or her favor.
The anti-terror legislation of the United Kingdom unfortunately appears to have forgotten this notion. This comes as little surprise, certainly, given its beginnings that would make many a human rights advocate flinch. Post-911 anti-terror legislation in the UK is heavily laden with the baggage of American anti-war rhetoric which in turn smacks of prejudice, bigotry and an abject refusal to honor human rights prin