Between 1914 and 1918, the British Army executed 306 of its soldiers for a range of offences. These executions have always been controversial and in recent years there has been a very effective campaign to have all those who were sentenced to death and shot, pardoned. As a result of this, in 2006, the then British Defence Secretary, Des Browne, pardoned all those who had been executed, acknowledging that, in some cases, an injustice had been done, particularly when looking at those executed for desertion or cowardice.
However, what this failed to address was that the pardon was also extended to 35 soldiers convicted of murder, who had they been convicted in a civilian court during peacetime, would have received the same sentence, although they would have hanged rather than been shot.
I think that the difficulty here is that we, in 2012, are looking at the offences in a post-capital punishment (in the UK at least) world, where there is far more understanding of things such as post-traumatic stress disorder. And can we really apply our sense of justice to something that happened a century ago? In the 18th Century, it was not uncommon for a person to be hanged for stealing a handkerchief, yet in 2012, that same person would be unlikely to receive a more severe punishment than a few hours community service.
Sadly, I believe that this has led to this country becoming more guilt-ridden. There seems to be, among our politicians at least, an almost apologetic tone when discussing historic events. No doubt the way in which the British treated Indians during the subjugation of the sub-continent was appalling, but it was 200 years ago! What difference will apologising now make to a country that is thriving and even has its own space programme? And there seems to be very little said about the atrocities committed by the Indians against the Europeans during the Indian mutiny.
It also sends out the message that this country is weak and opens the door to all sorts of spurious claims by people who I would consider to be less than completely deserving.
Last year, five elderly Kenyans brought a case in the High Court in London claiming that during the Kenyan Independence War in the 1950s, the so-called Mau Mau uprising, they were tortured by the colonial authorities. The courts have examined their claim and feel that there is a case to answer. Additionally, the courts have said that they may be entitled to compensation. I wonder if the Kenyan courts would look as favourably on any claims by relatives and descendants of the numerous Europeans killed by the Mau Mau?
Another example of weakness is the case of Binyam Mohammed. This is a man who came to the UK in 1994 from Ethiopia and who claimed political asylum. He was then granted leave to stay whilst his case was heard. In 2001 he travelled to Afghanistan where he has admitted receiving paramilitary training, and in 2002 he was arrested in Pakistan whilst trying to fly to the UK on a false passport.
He claims that he was then subjected to extraordinary rendition, by the US authorities, and in 2004 was detained in the US prison in Guantanimo Bay, Cuba, by the US authorities. It is important that I emphasise that all of this was carried out by the US authorities, because in 2007, Binyam Mohammed and four others filed a civil lawsuit against a subsidiary of US company Boeing for complicity in the alleged rendition. This was rejected by the US Supreme Court.
In 2009, this man was released from Guantanimo Bay and returned to the UK, where two weeks later he filed a civil suit against the British Government for collusion in his alleged rendition and torture. However, rather than following the US line and rejecting this self-confessed paramilitary, who was attempting to gain access to the UK illegally on a forged passport for whatever nefarious reasons, blatant attempt to cash in on his crimes, the British courts rolled over and he walked away at the end with a £1million pay out.
There also appears to be no consistency in the way that justice is carried out. A good example of this is that in 2010 a Ukrainian named Vladymyr Buchak, an illegal immigrant who had been in the UK since 2004, was convicted of his part in up to 360 sham marriages that took place in a church in St Leonard's in East Sussex. He was paid to marry off Eastern European girls, including his then pregnant girlfriend, to African men, who would then use the marriage to apply for residency in the UK. He was sentenced to four years in prison in September 2010 but was released from prison in July 2011, less than a year later. The judge had also recommended that he be deported at the end of his prison sentence, but more than a year after he was released from prison, this crook is still living in St Leonard's. Why? Could it be because he has a young son and it would "breach his human rights" if he were deported? One solution would be that he and his eastern European girlfriend and his young son all set up home in his native Ukraine after he has been deported.
Compare this to the case of Isimeli Baleiwai. This man is a Fijian-born ex-British soldier, who served in the British Army for 13 years before leaving in June of this year, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He is married to a British woman and has two children. He applied for UK Citizenship in March of this year.
However, in 2010, he got into a fight with an Army colleague. As a result of this, he was seen on orders by his Commanding Officer and fined and for this reason, UK Immigration has concluded that he has a criminal record and has refused him entry to the UK. He faces the prospect of deportation on 9th August. What about his human rights?