'Good journalism' vital to defend rights, says Kennedy

By Jon Slattery

Leading civil rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy last night launched an attack on Tony Blair, claiming his email comments to an Observer columnist demonstrated "he had forgotten any law he learned."

Kennedy, giving the James Cameron Memorial lecture at the City University, London, said "good journalism" is vital to stop the Government taking away hard won civil liberties on the grounds that it is a necessary part of the war on terrorism.

She said of Blair’s exchange with The Observer’s Henry Porter: "What was clear from his diatribe in The Observer was that he has forgotten any law he learned and does not know what law his government has made.

"On virtually every single issue he was factually wrong, and most shockingly claimed that the courts could, under our Human Rights Act, strike down legislation. Which is plain wrong."

Porter was one of the national columnists attacked earlier this week by Home Secretary Charles Clarke. In a speech on Monday at the London School of Economics, Clarke slammed Porter’s articles as an example of "the pernicious and even dangerous poison now slipping into at least some parts of the media."

Kennedy said: "Over the last nine years I have been involved in depressing and wretched disagreements with government over their retreat from civil liberties.

"This willingness of Tony Blair to abandon legal principle was evident in his decision to spurn international law when he embarked on the Iraq war." She warned: "The mistake government ministers so often make is that once in office they think they are ‘the state’ and, since they are all nice folk, any expressions of concern about ‘thin ends of wedges’ are dismissed as intemperate.

"If ministers are reminded of the importance of legislating with one eye to their wing mirrors for what might come into office hereafter, they poo-poo such fears of authoritarianism as liberal delusions."

She said that was shown by the Prime Minister’s response to Porter in The Observer when "civil libertarian objections are seen as frequently outmoded and the product of a different political reality".

Kennedy continued: "A retreat from the Rule of Law, human rights and civil liberties is short-sighted. Yet such a retreat is precisely what is taking place. A quiet and relentless war is being waged.

"We should feel it is possible for us to generate the kind of concern among our population so we actually say ‘no’. Good journalism is vital to that."


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