From reading the redacted FCO advice on this site, you can see that the FCO can intervene if they wish.
They do have an obligation under international law to ensure Brits get a fair trial that meets international standards. There does exist an FCO pro bono human rights section that deals with such violations.
It is Her Majesty’s Government’s responsibility to ensure that it raises with foreign states that state’s need to comply with international law. It is important also to know just what these international conventions are.
As I and dozens of other families have experienced, the problem nowadays can be that most FCO staff either are not aware of these obligations, or, more likely, understand that the office in London and/or their ambassador at post does not want these cases brought to their attention. Ambassadors and senior staff don’t really want to be complaining to their host governments about Brits in jail, though there are notable exceptions.
In my opinion, there is a disconnect between what the British state claim in their protection of British citizens, and what FCO staff are taught. Bluntly, many staff at embassies may not really know what to do with such cases, plus they can present a heavy workload. Moreover, there are often no resources available. So, there's a fair chance that the FCO and the local embassy may ignore you, fob you off, procrastinate and obfuscate.
An example of such procrastination and obfuscation is our case. Over the course of many years of us fighting with the embassy/FCO to raise our unfair-trial aspects and put our case to the FCO pro bono human rights section, we were eventually told that our case had never been put to anyone in London.
When this was admitted to, I wrote copious and detailed emails to the embassy/FCO outlining chapter and verse the very same FCO guidance that I outlined above. I ended by asking them, “Does the FCO believe that our trials did or did not meet international fair-trial standards?” and “Has our case now been referred to the FCO pro bono human rights lawyers or not?” I never got a reply. My follow-ups also got no reply.
In the meantime, the years passed by. Part of me feels that the FCO are stuck, but whilst I do have a grain of sympathy for them, I would argue that they cannot bang the table about ‘rules-based international systems’ and the rule of international law and yet in effect, ignore all of that when it comes to Brits facing difficulties abroad.
The FCO’s human rights reports and social media outlets correctly highlight many subjects including LGBT rights, FGM, modern slavery, the Crimea, the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, but there is rarely a mention of Brits and unfair trials. In short, the Foreign Office seems neither to have the will nor the wherewithal to consider the subject.
Non-intervention is often a false economy for the FCO/embassy.
As in our case, the embassy seemingly ignores the case for so many years, hoping it will go away or the family will give up. But sometimes the family won’t give up. Sometimes they will fight. Then the lobbying and the fightback begins. Sometimes the media gets involved and more lawyers come on board. Members of the House of Lords and MPs and pressure groups tackle the FCO. The local government in the country concerned starts getting bad press and has the case raised constantly with them.
More years pass. The pressure builds. It’s all over social media. The UK Foreign Secretary is now talking about it. It’s now the number one issue that our embassy is dealing with. The original diplomats who were reluctant to help have all left their posts by now. The ‘new crew’ of diplomats are wishing their predecessors had done something about the case in the beginning. Careers may be at stake by this stage.
In closing this discussion of the Foreign Office, I have to say a word in its favour. It is still full of well-intentioned people, many of my former colleagues and friends, who of course are decent human beings. I am also personally aware of a number of ex- and serving ambassadors who have gone out of their way to help Brits.
Rather, it is the system that is broken. Our consular services, at home and overseas, are faced with a staggering amount of work. Their normal, everyday consular work goes unheralded and unrewarded. Indeed, in the last two years of our seven-year case, after yet another embassy staff change, the consular staff, both local and UK based, were excellent. They also wrote two lobbying letters. It’s just that in our case, we faced the broken systems of governments – foreign and domestic.
Family, friends and supporters are vital, and you need to keep them on board.
This means keeping them informed, but not too much, as you will quickly find everyone has their own problems. After a year or more of following your story, people tended to drift off into their own lives.
So be aware and strike a balance. There will be decisions to make constantly. Don’t make them all yourself. The adage ‘no man is an island’ is true, I found. Many will offer their opinion. It will be up to you to know whose judgement to trust. The ‘inner circle’ with whom I consulted and shared drafts were about four in number. Beyond them, we had over 100 other supporters.
The local government and its judicial system has a vested interest in succeeding in its prosecution of you. Remember that there is often ‘face’ to be saved. We don’t live in a globally interconnected world as far as judicial proceedings are concerned.
Each country lives in its own unique judicial bubble. It often has, to our eyes, strange, archaic laws and systems and you have to try and understand that and find a way to deal with it.
This is where Arrested Abroad and our experts may be able to assist and advise you.
The actual courts and trials will exhaust you physically, emotionally and financially. The idea, portrayed on film, of diligent police and prosecutors forensically investigating each piece of evidence and carefully testing it is mostly not true.
In our experience, whole swathes of evidence never get disclosed, and evidence is not tested to any fair standard. Your right to properly get to grips with the evidence and challenge anything is almost nil. To begin with, you may wait years for your first trial. During those years of waiting, there can be a dozen or more ‘hearings’ at court, each time with different judges and/or different prosecutors. Each of these ‘hearings’ usually consists of the defence putting forth lengthy legal written pieces. There are no confrontations, no meaningful challenges against the state or prosecution.
In addition, it's often the case that local lawyers can’t usually stand up to their broken judicial systems and certainly can’t challenge them; the prosecutor may say barely a word and he/she has already submitted the case files, so it’s up to you to disprove it, not him/her. You are the foreigner. You are supposed to admit your guilt and beg forgiveness.
Both local and foreign supporters of ours who attended some of these events were astounded at how nothing ever happened and how, even at trial, it never gets out of first gear. As in our case, prosecutors failed to appear; judges fell asleep; it took them a year to get something translated; most of the witnesses were never called; the prosecutor falsified some of the evidences; the judge mixed up the name of the defendant with that of the British ambassador… and so on.
We went through 16 prosecutors and 12 judges. Eventually, even the Foreign Office complained.
I will briefly touch upon The US State Department.
Paul is a dual US/UK national, so we also tried to elicit the help of the US State Department, who unfortunately, were even less effective than the Foreign Office. I could find no American equivalent of Prisoners Abroad or Fair Trials.
But underlining my advice about staying on the radar, it’s all grist to the mill of showing to the local authorities that everyone is watching what is happening, so that no ‘funny business’ (beyond the unfair-trials aspect) takes place.
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