Tuesday, 27 May 2008

42 days: get writing, folks

The report stage of the counter-terrorism bill is coming up. This bill would allow pre-charge detention of terrorist suspects for up to 42 days. The current limit is 28 days, already significantly higher than most comparable democracies. No good case has been made for this erosion of civil liberties, and it's time to get writing to your MP. The following went off to my MP today:

I am writing to express my concerns at the proposal in the counter-terrorism bill to extend pre-charge detention to 42 days in certain circumstances. This is a considerable extension to current powers, and for that reason a clear case needs to be made for the necessity of the measure. In my opinion, this has not been done. I note that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken McDonald, and Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, have stated that they see no need for an extension to pre-charge detention. I also note that Lord Dear, the former chief inspector of constabulary, has stated that most chief constables he has spoken to do not think a 42-day detention period is necessary. This raises the question of who exactly does think this provision is necessary.

As I understand them, the proposals would provide for the Home Secretary to make a statement to parliament, and for parliament to vote on an extension to pre-charge detention. However, it is difficult to see how the Home Secretary can come before parliament to discuss individual cases because of the risk of prejudicing them.

The proposals seem to be poorly thought out, unnecessary and unworkable, and I hope you will carefully consider the implications of the proposed legislation for civil liberties before the report stage of the bill.


Paul Wilson


Richard Burnham said...

I wrote to my (Conservative) MP, and he confirmed that he will be voting against the measure.

I had not realised the threat to civil liberties of other measures in the bill until now. Lord Rea and others have written to the national press to explain this.

"We are disturbed, however, that this exclusive focus on one aspect has diverted attention from other measures in the bill which are equally pernicious, given the excessively broad definition of terrorism established by the 2000 Terrorism Act.

Increasingly, "anti-terror" powers are used to convict individuals merely for alleged membership of "proscribed" political organisations, for possessing DVDs, for downloading web pages and to harass protesters for peaceful activities.

The bill will further widen the net of innocent people who will be incriminated. It creates a new offence of seeking or communicating information about the armed forces which could be useful to terrorism, which we fear will become yet another convenient tool for use against the peace movement. The bill also provides for sentences to be lengthened where an "ordinary" offence is said to be associated with terrorism, implying the possibility of long periods in jail for minor offences.

The bill proposes further forms of punishment that may be imposed after conviction, without further due legal process and even on the basis of secret evidence withheld from defendants, such as confiscation of property, bans on foreign travel, and requirements to report to the police whenever staying away from home.

While the new power for post-charge questioning of suspects helps to undermine any argument for extended detention without charge, it increases the risk that persons in custody for minor offences may be intimidated to make false confessions.

The measures to allow no-jury inquests in the name of "national security" would seriously undermine police accountability in cases like the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

We believe that counter-terror powers are already more than sufficient and that the counter-terrorism bill does more to endanger than to enhance public safety. It should therefore be opposed in its entirety. We urge members of the public to write to their MPs inviting them to vote against it."

Paul Wilson said...

Thanks for posting that letter. I'd have to agree with it. It's interesting that the focus has been on 42 days or not 42 days, rather than all the other stuff in the bill.

I wrote to my (labour) MP. He forwarded me a letter he had received from Jacqui Smith, in reply to a letter from another of his constituents.

He didn't trouble to make any comment himself, so I suspect he will toe the party line.