Monday, January 08, 2007


I suspect that the police are actually satirizing do-gooder laws that they disagree with

Pictures of two murderers on the run from jail were released last night after the Lord Chancellor criticised a police force for suggesting that the Human Rights Act prevented their publication.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, QC, dismissed the suggestions by Derbyshire police as "absolute nonsense" and demanded an explanation of their refusal to release the pictures. "When you are dealing with two convicted murderers, both of whom have absconded, it is utterly obvious that there is no public interest arising out of the Human Rights Act which prevents publication," Lord Falconer said.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) also said yesterday that the photos should be published if the men were considered a danger to the public. It said that the Human Rights Act explicitly allowed police to print "wanted" pictures if it was in the public interest.

The row plunged the Government into controversy over its Human Rights Act. Lord Falconer intervened after Derbyshire Constabulary decided not to release pictures of Jason Croft and Michael Nixon, both 28, who absconded from Sudbury open prison in November. Croft, also known as Jason Fox, from Salford, and Nixon, of Blackley, Manchester, were near the end of life sentences for murder and had been given day release and allowed home visits. Croft was given a life sentence in 1996 after stabbing a youth in the chest as he lay unconscious in a street in Moston, Manchester. Nixon was also jailed for life in 1996 after he dropped a concrete block on a teenager's head in the Newton Heath area of the city.

Derbyshire police said that a number of factors had been considered in reaching the decision, including the possibility that publication breached the prisoners' human rights. The force also insists that the two men pose a minimal risk to the public as they had been assessed as low risk before the Prison Service transferred them from a closed to an open prison.

As the Derbyshire force continued its stance, the Greater Manchester force released the images last night. A spokesman for the DCA said: "Nothing in the Human Rights Act prevents publishing the photograph of an escaped criminal if he presents a danger to the public. On the contrary, the Act explicitly allows public authorities to limit an individual's right to privacy in the interests of public safety or for the prevention of crime. It is merely common sense, as well as the law, that the right to personal privacy can be restricted to facilitate the identification and capture of an escaped criminal, particularly in cases where there is a danger to the public."

The Information Commissioner's Office, the department responsible for access to, and the protection of, information, also said that data protection rules cannot be used as a reason not to release the images. Neither of the two escapers is thought to be still in Derbyshire.

A police spokesman said: "When making a decision to release any photograph, police forces must take into account numerous factors, including the public interest test, whether there is a strong local policing purpose and, of course, the Human Rights and Data Protection Acts. "Photographs of named people that are in police possession are classed as data and their release is restricted by law.

"Association of Chief Police Officers guidance states that releasing a `wanted' photograph of a named person should only happen in exceptional circumstances where officers believe that the named suspect may be a danger to the public." Acpo said that it did not have specific guidance in a case such as this. Croft has been missing since October 31 and Nixon since he failed to appear at roll call on November 2.



Notes from the first day of the most Jewish Congress ever: It was an exhausting day of celebration for the party (you know which party), the Jewish activists, the new members. Forty-three Jewish legislators in Congress, but who's counting?

First thought: Wow, so many Jews in Congress. A record number: 43. That's huge. No wonder people are so excited about it. Second thought: Isn't it too much? Just 2 percent of the population and 13 senators out of 100? Two percent of the population and 30 congressmen? Aren't they going to draw the attention of all the anti-Semites, conspiracy theorists, Walt and Mersheimers of the world? Maybe a lower profile would have been preferable? Third thought: Is worrying the Jewish way of celebrating or what? As they used to say - start worrying, details to follow.

Six new Jewish lawmakers, all Democrats, were sworn in today on Capitol Hill. They come from different places and from different backgrounds. Some represent areas heavily populated by Jews, some areas with a negligible number of Jews. Will they thrive? Will they survive? Today they seem mostly happy to be there.

Did we mention all the new members are Democrats? Twenty-nine out of 30 Jewish members of the House are Democrats, nine out of 13 Jewish senators are Democrats, two are independents caucusing with the Democrats and two are Republicans. Those who attended the National Jewish Democratic Council reception, House majority leader Steny Hoyer included, will not forget this. If you had any doubt, most Jews are also still Democrats (not that anyone had any doubts).

Nancy Pelosi became the first woman speaker of the House, but that's not the most remarkable thing about her (if you ask NJDC). She is the first speaker to have Jewish grandchildren. That's history.

And speaking of women, new congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is the "first Jewish woman from Arizona" to be elected to the House. She is also, well, how should I put it? It's always nice to be reminded again that not all Jewish legislators are older, balding, mustachioed men (did I just make an anti-Semitic remark?).



Principals at five Karlskrona schools backed down on Friday from earlier calls for pupils to demonstrate against the politics of the Sweden Democrats. On Thursday one of the principals in question, Marina Eriksson from Sunnadalskolan, sent out a statement to local media that five schools in the southern town had agreed to protest "against the Sweden Democrats' politics".

On several previous occasions pupils from schools in Karlskrona have been invited to participate in an annual torchlight procession in memory of victims of the Holocaust. This year Eriksson claimed that several schools had agreed to widen the scope of the event to include criticism of the Sweden Democrats, the far right party that gained 10 percent of the local vote in September general elections.

But another of the school heads, Gunilla Ekelof from Wamoskolan, contends that there was no consultation among the principals of the five school regarding a protest action. "I can't imagine demonstrating against democratic decisions," she said.

On Friday morning Marina Eriksson distanced herself from her original statement. "It is a manifestation against violence and xenophobia, and for equal human rights. It is not a manifestation in which we reject the Sweden Democrats' politics," Eriksson told news agency TT.

The principal of Sunnadalskolan would not comment on Thursday's statement comparing the politics of the Sweden Democrats to Nazism.



Officials at Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport are proposing stiffer penalties - including suspension of an airport taxi license - to Muslim cab drivers who refuse service to passengers toting alcohol or service dogs. Officials on Wednesday asked the Metropolitan Airport Commission for permission to hold public hearings on a proposal that would suspend the airport licenses of cab drivers who refuse service for reasons other than safety concerns. The penalties would also apply to drivers who refuse a fare because a trip is too short. Drivers would have their airport licenses suspended 30 days for the first offense and revoked for two years after the second offense, according to the proposal. "Our expectation is that if you're going to be driving a taxi at the airport, you need to provide service to anybody who wants it," commission spokesman Patrick Hogan said.

The commission is expected to vote Jan. 16 on the request for public hearings. Airports Commissioner Bert McKasy said the issue raised by Muslim cab drivers who say that carrying alcohol or dogs, including those that help people with disabilities, violates religious beliefs is "unfortunate." "I think it's pretty much the consensus of the commissioners and the staff that we have to provide good service to the public, and that's pretty much the bottom line," McKasy said.

Each month, about 100 people are denied cab service at the airport. Airport officials say that in recent months, the problem of service refusals for religious reasons has grown. About three-quarters of the 900 taxi drivers at the airport are Somali, many of them Muslim.

Hogan said the goal is to have a new policy in place by May 11, when airport taxi licenses come up for annual renewal. "We want the drivers to know about the policy in advance, so that if they don't think they can work under these conditions, they have the option of not renewing their license," Hogan said.

Last year, the airports commission received a fatwa, or religious edict, from the Minnesota chapter of the Muslim American Society. The fatwa said "Islamic jurisprudence" prohibits taxi drivers from carrying passengers with alcohol, "because it involves cooperating in sin according to Islam."

Eva Buzek, a flight attendant and Minneapolis resident, said she was recently refused service by five taxi drivers when she was carrying wine as she returned from a trip to France. "In my book, when you choose to come to a different country, you make some choices," said Buzek, a native of Poland. "I never expected everything to be the same way as in my homeland, and I adjusted. I never dreamed of imposing my beliefs on somebody else."

But Hassan Mohamud, imam at Al-Taqwa Mosque of St. Paul and director of the Islamic Law Institute at the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, one of the largest Islamic organizations in the state, said asking Muslims to transport alcohol "is a violation of their faith. Muslims do not consume, carry, sell or buy alcohol, and Islam also considers the saliva of dogs to be unclean, he said. Mohamud said he would ask airport officials to reconsider.

But many Somali taxi drivers don't have a problem transporting passengers with alcohol and are worried about a backlash, said Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center. Jamal said he supports the tougher penalties. "We tell the taxi drivers, if you don't want to do this, change your job," he said. "You are living in a country where alcohol is not viewed the way it is in your country."


No comments: