Leaders: At what price freedom?

A rose is pictured in a bullet hole in a window, rue de Charonne, in Paris. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
A rose is pictured in a bullet hole in a window, rue de Charonne, in Paris. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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OUR privacy is a hard-won right, but protecting it completely may come at too high a cost

Any response to the murderous attacks in Paris on Friday night is going to appear inadequate. Politicians might offer words of sympathy and reassert their resolve to continue the fight against terrorism, but how we tackle Islamist extremism is not at all clear.

What happened in the French capital did so without warning. Those who carried out the attacks had no fear of being caught or losing their lives as they killed others.

If we cannot gather the intelligence necessary to head off such planned attacks then it’s difficult to see what solution there might be.

We talk of a “war on terror”, but wars are generally about territory and against enemies who have a logical end game.

This is not the case when it comes to tackling terrorism. Those who carry out atrocities such as those that caused such a death toll in Paris have no clear objective other than to cause maximum death and suffering.

To Isis killers, those enjoying a night out in Paris were legitimate targets simply because of who they were and the freedoms they enjoyed.

As a result of the murders in France on Friday, there will be a renewed call from some for attacks on Syria to be ramped up.

The temptation, in the face of such horror, to demand an eye for an eye is understandable. But would such a response help matters or would further intervention in Syria mean an increase in the sort of radicalism expressed so brutally in Paris? Increased action in Syria now might have devastating consequences.

Even if the Isis group could be wiped out in its entirety, Islamist extremism will remain a terrible fact of life for time to come. There will always be pockets of extremists willing to carry out such acts of terrorism in order to make maximum impact.

It is a commendable human response to refuse to be intimidated by acts of terrorism. Those who kill for their twisted beliefs do so in order to create the greatest possible panic. They wish to force their values on the rest of us, and to see our way of life transformed.

But we must caution against a response that could exacerbate what is a very serious problem.

A response, however, is required.

We take great pride in our freedoms but we will have to look again at measures which might limit them.

There will have to be increased border controls to monitor the movement of people – and the transit of weapons – as well as greater surveillance.

There is no escaping the truth that such measures involve some loss of liberty but nothing should be ruled out as we work to head off future attacks.

There have already been devastating Islamist attacks – most notably the London bombings in 2005 – on UK soil and it would be foolish to believe that similar killings are not, even now, being planned. If we did not live on an island, attacks such as that in Paris on Friday would be more common in the UK.

But even though we’re separated from mainland Europe by the Channel, the risk from home-grown terrorists remains very real.

We understand concerns about security services having the authority to monitor phone and internet use. Our privacy is a hard-won right and anything that might impact on it should concern us greatly.

But we must also be realistic when we look at how we might fight back against terrorism.

We have no choice but to consider the possibility that an increase in surveillance may be the only way through which prospective terrorism attacks can be prevented from taking place.

Our freedom is important, but the loss of the lives of innocent people seems an intolerably high cost for protecting it completely.

Justice adjourned is no justice at all

THE closures of courts across Scotland were supposedly necessary to save money and create a more efficient justice system. Unsurprisingly, things have not panned out this way. Instead, fewer courts means standards are slipping, and a rule that means accused people must face trial within 140 days is being ignored.

The consequence is that an increasing number of prisoners are being held on remand for ever longer periods of time.

This is no kind of justice.

The 140-day rule is supposed to provide reassurance to both the accused and their alleged victims that the wheels of justice will run smoothly and efficiently. But leading defence lawyers say that many who’ve been charged have to wait far longer. The remand wings of Scotland’s prisons are, they say, overflowing.

There are many reasons that delayed justice should concern us. All of us should expect a justice system that treats alleged criminals with dignity. Justice delayed, increased costs, overcrowding and the risk of institutionalising those who, it later transpires, are innocent are all cause for worry.

Courts are getting round the breach of the 140-day rule by scheduling brief hearings which allow cases to be continued. This is not an acceptable way to relieve pressure on the system.

There are teething troubles with every change to an established system but it is difficult to see how the problems caused by the reduction in the number of courts can be solved without a rethink on the part of the Scottish Government. If there are now too few courts to deliver a fair and efficient justice system then facilities previously closed should be re-opened.

That would create an expense that is no longer budgeted for, but it would be a small price to pay if it buys time to address what changes require to be made to allow the courts to operate efficiently again.

Our legal system is under constant pressure. Funding has been cut time and again, and court staff are overstretched.

If there is not a rethink on the closure of Scottish courts then things can only get worse and the pressure on the system may become intolerable.