Feeding the hand that bites us: The UK’s neglect of victims
‘Closing the blinds on mediocrity’ from billaday, Flickr, creative comms
The Global Terrorism Index records the UK as suffering a greater impact from terrorism and more terrorist incidents in the last year than any other Western country. Yet the state’s legal and compensatory frameworks for our increasing number of victims remain surprisingly inadequate and unworkable. Alongside Innocent Victims United, McCue and Partners is seeking to review and improve UK citizens’ protection at home and abroad.
In 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, recognised that states should accept a ‘special obligation’ to victims of terrorism because:
‘… it is inherent in the nature of terrorism that it involves the use or threat of force aimed at influencing a State … [and] there is almost always a direct [connection] between acts of terrorism and policies of state. A terrorist killing is thus different in character from a purely private murder.’
More crudely put, when it declared its post 9/11 ‘War on Terror’ in 2001, our Government immediately dispatched every UK citizen to the front-line – whether we’d signed up or not. Worse still, there are no maps of trenches or guard-posts criss-crossing the globe to show us where safety ends and danger begins. As 2016 – perhaps more than any other year has shown us – the front-line is anywhere and everywhere we go.
When UK military personnel are injured or killed, at least our Government provides them some care – though doubtlessly it should do more. Medical care is on offer, funerals are taken care of and pensions are paid.
Victims, on the other hand, receive only minimal state support. Treated like any other victim of crime, you can apply for compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. Fixed tariffed payments mean everything has a price: £33,000 if you lose an arm, £27,000 for a permanent and seriously disabling mental injury or £16,500 for burns causing severe facial disfigurement. If your injuries are so severe you are unable to work, you may receive some compensation for loss of future earnings but only calculated on the basis of statutory sick pay – certainly not enough to live on. And that’s it – afterwards, you’re pretty much on your own.
Worse still, until 2012, you only got this if the terror attack occurred in the UK. If you were a victim of terrorism overseas, you got nothing. This is despite victims becoming increasingly more at risk of terrorism abroad than at home. It was only after years of lobbying from victims and much resistance from the government, that the UK finally and reluctantly extended the scheme to overseas attacks.
In any event, too often our victims are forgotten. No medal. No recognition for your service to your country. No acknowledgment from your government of the part it played in increasing the risk of terrorism and putting you in the firing line. Since the War on Terror was launched, terror attacks worldwide have increased as much as 6,500%.
Why has our government chosen to abandon our victims? Why do we continue to let it? There are countless high-profile charities for our soldiers and veterans. Rightly so but, conversely, there is a dearth for victims. All the while, the charity The UK Donkey Sanctuary attracts upwards of £20 million in donations a year. We’re more interested in protecting our asses than looking after our victims once the bomb’s gone off. Yet, how we treat our victims, how we value their lives is what distinguishes us from the terrorists’ death cult; thus is fundamental to any effective counter-terror policy. If the government won’t help the victims, it’s our duty to do so, and there is one thing that can and should be done immediately.
As already pointed out, post 9/11, the majority of UK victims are caught up in terror attacks overseas. Too often, those countries fail to convict the perpetrators.
Even if they do, imprisoning the bombers and gunmen will not bring an end to the attacks. For each one locked away, there will always be more to take their place.
More important and effective is the targeting of foreign states and private actors who finance, train and arm their terrorist organisations. Without money, training or weapons, the terrorist threat is greatly reduced.
There is an abundance of evidence against some foreign governments for supporting and financing terrorism. Yet, for reasons of international diplomacy and state immunity, in this modern era HMG has never prosecuted a single foreign state or its officials for their complicity in maiming or slaughtering UK citizens. Instead, we continue to invite their sovereign wealth funds to buy-up half of London and trip over ourselves to sell their governments arms to fight unlawful wars. All the while, our victims are sacrificed on the altar of political expediency and big business. In feeding the hand that bites us, we are completely undermining the efforts of our security services to combat terrorism.
If the government won’t or can’t act, victims have the right to seek justice and bring such prosecutions themselves. But they face too many barriers. There are time limits for bringing your case (within three years of the attack); exemptions from prosecution for states and its officials (‘state immunity’); arguments that you should take your case elsewhere, either in the country where the attack took place or, worse still, in the country who supported the terrorists in the first place (‘jurisdiction’); and too much discretion by the Legal Aid Agency to deny victims legal aid by deciding that prosecuting terrorists is not in the public interest (yes, this has actually happened). Perhaps most perversely, while many terrorist organisations are structured and organised just like a registered company, all the while conducting business to make money to fund their attacks, they cannot be sued because they are not a legal entity. They are protected from the law by the very fact that they are unlawful.
There should be no time-limit imposed on when a victim of terrorism can bring their case to court. Foreign states and their officials who sponsor terrorism must not be allowed to use state immunity as a shield against prosecution (in the US, Congress has recently and unanimously passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act to do just this). UK courts should have jurisdiction over terrorist acts against UK citizens, wherever they may occur. Legal aid must be more readily available to victims to bring prosecutions. Terrorists organisations and their leaders should be directly liable for the acts of their members. How can and why should anyone deny victims these basic principles? Given the current lack of state support in other areas, at the very least they have a right to justice being done and seen to be done. The victims aren’t asking the government to do anything, just remove the barriers and get out of their way.
This is why on behalf of Innocent Victims United, an umbrella organisation for 23 groups that have a collective membership in excess of 11,500 individual victims/survivors throughout the UK, McCue & Partners is seeking to raise £25,000 to bring about much-needed and long-overdue change to the law to allow UK victims and survivors of terrorism to bring terrorists and their supporters to justice because, too often, the State fails, is unable or chooses not to do so. The laws of other countries provide their victims with such essential access to justice. It’s time the UK did too.
Please visit CrowdJustice (here) if you would like to learn more and support UK victims of terrorism.
Matthew is Managing Partner of McCue & Partners LLP. He is a public interest lawyer and campaigner for victims of terrorism