New publication on the effect of the UK’s counter-terrorism policies on the rule of law

Published 12 March 2019

"When faced with a choice between a prompt legislative response to close perceived legal and policy gaps or first exhausting the wide range of legal powers already available, the New Labour chose the former". © iStock, anti-terrorism safety barriers on Vauxhall Bridge, London.

In an upcoming book chapter titled “Individual Terrorist Suspects as the New Folk Devil: New Labour, Rights Tokenism and Security Compulsions”, T.M.C. Asser Instituut's researcher Dr Rumyana van Ark (née Grozdanova) examines the long-term implications of New Labour’s counter-terrorism policies on the rule of law in the United Kingdom. According to Dr. van Ark, individual human rights have been hollowed out by post 9-11 legislative fever.

In May 1997, a triumphant Tony Blair was celebrating Labour’s victory at the polls. By October of the same year, his government was already working on fulfilling their pledge for a comprehensive programme of constitutional reform. Early indications suggested that the promotion of individual rights would form a core component of New Labour’s legislative and policy agenda. Yet, by early 2002, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA) was in operation – an Act once described as “the most draconian legislation Parliament has passed in peacetime in over a century”. In her book chapter, Dr Van Ark examines how and why this now repealed legislation continues to have an impact on individual human rights. 

From keen endorsement of human rights to enduring championing of counter-terrorism
The comprehensive and highly restrictive nature of the provisions and counter-terrorism measures contained within Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 set the stage for New Labour’s post-2001 approach towards human rights and national security: a perfunctory respect for individual rights in comparison to the exhaustive commitment to counter-terrorism. If New Labour’s legislative and policy record on security matters post 9/11 is to be summarised, Dr Van Ark argues, it would be thus: when faced with a choice between a prompt legislative response to close perceived legal and policy gaps or first exhausting the wide range of legal powers already available, the New Labour chose the former. The counter-terrorism legislative fever which followed the events of 9/11 and the rhetoric surrounding the adoption of each new piece of legislation resulted in a tokenistic approach towards human rights. This tokenism has led to the hollowing out of a number of individual rights such as the right to fair trial.

Dr Van Ark’s book chapter is now available here. The full collection “Twenty Years On: Assessing the Legacy of New Labour’s Constitution” (Hart Publications) edited by Prof. Mike Gordon and Dr Adam Tucker (University of Liverpool) is forthcoming in 2019.

Dr Rumyana van Ark (nee Grozdanova) is part of the Asser research strand Human Dignity and Human Security in International and European Law. This research strand adopts a human rights approach to global challenges in the field of counter-terrorism, international criminal law, international humanitarian law, international trade, environmental protection, European private international law, and the law of EU external relations. It examines what it means to safeguard human dignity - also in relation to human security - in these areas.

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