Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Named & shamed?

From the descriptions given, none of the 16 people named, shamed and banned from the UK are folk you would want to meet.

While denying someone entry to the UK on opinion alone would be manifestly unjust, the Home Secretary has relied on evidence from intelligence agencies. Assuming that evidence is robust, the UK public interest has been well served.

But we need to exercise caution. We all remember the flawed evidence that "justified" a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. Whenever we conflate intelligence with high-profile media coverage and politics, people get killed or hurt.

The exercise of power requires due process of law, not YouTube or dossiers. How many of those excluded were actually going to visit the UK?

Some of those named are in foreign prisons, so are we being told of imminent threats or possible ones that might or might not happen sometime in the future?

Legally, there is a logic in revealing some of the evidence that exclusions are based upon, but announcing who has been banned does appear to represent a further extension of our vacuous, voyeuristic, celebrity-culture obsession.

The business of government and the exercise of legal power must always be based on cold, hard facts, and not how things might look in the media.

Thankfully our legal system provides checks and balances on political power. It would be possible to judicially review a decision to exclude someone banned from entry to the UK if that decision was irrational or unreasonable.

Today there are reports that the vile US shock-jock Michael Savage – who is on the 16 least wanted list – is planning to sue the UK Home Secretary for defamation. He objects to being named on a list along with neo-Nazi convicted murderers.

I believe naming and shaming is a slippery slope. Do we start to name and shame those accused of things that we don't like within the UK? And if so, whose interest does that serve?

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