The UK Parliament votes in a few hours on new legislation to allow the Police to detain suspects in terrorist offences for longer than the currently allowed maximum of 28 days (the bill before Parliament gives provision for up to 42 days).
Various bits and pieces have been written about how this is necessary measure to protect national security, or how it is an unacceptable attack on civil liberties guaranteed since the Magna Carta.
I side on the latter, and I’ll detail here why. Firstly, it’s expected to work like this:
A Terrorist Outrage is committed on British soil. After a few days, suspects are arrested and questioned. So far so good. The days tick away until eventually…
The Director of Public Prosecution has to decide if the Police have enough evidence to charge the suspect with the crime or order his release.
The decision is made, there isn’t enough evidence. The Police need more time and go to the Home Secretary to say “er, Guv… we need more time”. The Home Secretary goes to Parliament (within 2 days) and says “There’s been a Terrorist Outrage and the police need more time to question this bloke”
Parliament then has to vote whether or not they’re allowed to do so within 30 days of being told by the Home Secretary (with the image of body bags fresh in their minds). A Judge then decides whether or not the suspect can be held beyond 28 days. If the Police applied on Day 27 and Parliament couldn’t vote for two weeks, it makes no odds, the Police can hold them for an extra two weeks. The ability to hold people for an 42 days then remains active for 60 days until either Parliament quashes it (through the vote) or until the 60 days run out.
This therefore could mean that the poor sod locked up could have been released by the time Parliament has debated the measure. The safeguards are largely unworkable. The Government insists that this would only be used in the most extreme of extreme situations, that it’s an insurance policy so that if something were to happen, the Government doesn’t need to rush to Parliament to pass a law to hold suspects for longer, denying the terrorists the “Oxygen of publicity”…
Because as we know, having Parliament rush through new legislation will give terrorists more publicity than say a large bomb going off in central London. I can imagine the next terrorist meeting:
Osama: “Guys, since we won’t have the British Parliament passing laws in the event of an attack by us, it’s pointless for us to go after them, we’ll be deprived of the oxygen of publicity… I’m going to give up and take up needlework”
The argument about this being an insurance policy seems to me at least to be a spurious one. We could pass such “insurance policy” laws until the end of time and we’d still be none the wiser. To be on the safe side, I say we pass a law that says if aliens turn up; we should provide every citizen of the country with little flags to welcome them (feel free to suggest your own). I don’t see that Parliament could be given anything close to the time necessary to look at such an issue in any great degree of detail without prejudicing the trial.
Returning to the Civil Liberties aspect, we all have basic rights in this country . The Police can’t detain you just because they feel like it. You have the right to know why you’re being detained and have the right to be tried before your peers. To lock someone up for 6 weeks whilst you look for evidence of their guilt seems to run counter to the whole notion. If the Police find no evidence after 6 weeks, they turn you free and you find that no one of your friends will talk to you, no one will give you a job. Solution? “here, have £3000 for every day we held you over 28 days”.
Little comfort if you have to start your life over again.
The Government claim that the complexity of such cases requires the increase in days. Whilst this may be the case, why not give the Police more money to hire more people and buy better equipment? It seems to me that if you double the number of people working on a case, they’re going to get through the evidence more quickly.
It’s also claimed that various high-profile Police and Security Service officials want this power “just in case”. I wonder what other powers the Police would like “just in case”? The Security Services even took the unprecedented step of saying publically that it was indifferent to the proposals. Even the man responsible for bringing such cases in front of the Courts has said it isn’t necessary.
Word reaches us today that Brown is buying off rebels with promises to take a softer line on Cuba, to give more money to Miner’s compensation causes, not to mention apparent shady dealings in Northern Ireland. A poll today says that a 69% of the public support the detention of terrorist suspects for 42 days in an emergency. I’m pretty sure that you could also have asked “do you think terrorist suspects should be given the death penalty” would have had a similar outcome. All I need to tell you about opinion polls is that it is possible to get any answer you want by asking the right question, as this clip from “Yes Prime Minster” demonstrates:
I hope that this goes the right way, but sadly I fear that we’re on the slippery slope.
Updated – 22:16
315 votes in favour, 306 against. The Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland help Gordon Brown from a tight spot. There’s talk that they were bought off with promises about military base sell-offs. It’s a sad day. Now we’re left to watch The House of Lords kick this horrible afront to our hard won civil liberties and the rule of decent law back into the waiting lap of Dear Leader