IRR vice-chair Frances Webber comments on the stansted 15 verdict, a trial where laws designed to deal with terrorist threats at airports have been brought against human rights defenders.
The crime of endangering airport security, under the Aviation and Security Act, was designed to deal with terrorist threats at airports – not peaceful anti-deportation activists armed only with equipment to lock themselves to an aircraft to prevent a deportation charter flight from taking off. The Stansted 15 took the action to stop the individuals on the flight from being deported to the risk of serious human rights abuses – and they have been vindicated by the fact that eleven of the sixty deportees who did not fly that day remain in the UK and two have been granted leave to remain, in an implicit admission that they should not have been subject to deportation. The evidence given at the trial has highlighted these secretive charter flight deportations, marked as they are by brutality and inhumanity.
But the trial judge’s refusal to allow the jury to consider a defence of necessity or duress of circumstances – the argument that the defendants’ actions were necessary to prevent serious harm to those on board the plane – made a guilty verdict inevitable, in a trial which appears choreographed from start to finish to send out a tough message to deter human rights defenders.
Frances Webber is the Vice Chair of the Institute of Race Relations