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In a case involving two Pakistani men, courts in Britain have offered mixed messages. An immigration court says the men are al-Qaida operatives. Last week, though, a different court said the men could not be deported to Pakistan because they might be tortured there. NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.
ROB GIFFORD: In April of last year, 10 young Pakistani men were arrested on suspicion of plotting a bombing in Britain. In the end, because of lack of evidence, the men were never charged. Eight of them returned to Pakistan voluntarily. Two of them remained, and the British government tried to deport them.
But last week the deportation ruling was overturned. The legal basis for allowing them to stay is the British Human Rights Act, a law brought in in 1998 which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. It says no one can be returned to a country where they might be tortured.
The case has caused uproar in Britain, not least within the Conservative Party. The Conservatives are committed to replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights that senior Conservative MP Bill Cash says would take British control back from the European Court in Strasbourg.
Mr. BILL CASH (Conservative Party, Great Britain): We've just seen a very important case relating to extradition of people who one would have thought would not be able to be protected by the Human Rights Act. And the problem is that the laws there are determined in Strasbourg.
Even recently, Lord Hoffman, a former law lord, said with regard to the European Court, it has been unable to resist the temptation to aggrandize its jurisdiction. It considers itself the equivalent of the Supreme Court of the United States, laying down the federal law of Europe.
GIFFORD: And that's something the Conservatives, notoriously hostile to being part of Europe, simply dont want to see. For them, British law is British law. But the Conservative Party failed to win a majority in the election earlier this month and had to ally itself with the very pro-Europe Liberal Democrats to form a government. That has meant that the Conservatives have had to make a huge concession to the Liberal Democrats and put off their plans to repeal the Human Rights Act.
Norman Lamb is chief advisor to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
Mr. NORMAN LAMB (Liberal Democrat Advisor): We're prepared to look at the case that the Conservatives have put forward in the general election, but we mustnt reduce the safeguards to the citizen. The Convention is there to protect the citizen against the overbearing power of the state.
GIFFORD: Though many say this case is an abuse of those protections, John Curtice of Strathclyde University says a lot of the Conservative attempt to create a Bill of Rights for Britain is simply nationalistic grandstanding that won't make a difference in law.
Mr. JOHN CURTICE (Strathclyde University): If indeed the Conservatives were to repeal the Human Rights Act and to replace it by a British human rights bill, that would not stop the right of U.K. citizens to be able to go to Strasbourg to say my human rights are being overridden. It would simply mean that U.K. courts could no longer enforce the European Convention through the U.K. court processes. But the truth is, at the end of day the United Kingdom would still find itself with exactly the same international obligations.
GIFFORD: Meanwhile, the two Pakistani men remain in Britain, uncharged but unable to be deported, and now the British government must work out how to deal with them.
Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.
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