Just when the government has to publish a bill trying to extend the time a person can be detained without being charged to 42 days, Labour ministers start talking up the threat we face from terrorism.
The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, said today that the terror threat facing the UK was “higher than it has ever been” as she unveiled new laws to detain terror suspects without trial for up to 42 days.
Under the counter-terrorism bill 2008, published today, the home secretary would be able to sign an order to extend the pre-charge detention period for terror suspects beyond the current 28 days.
Smith said the higher detention limit, which is expected to set her on a collision course with Labour rebels, would only come into force in “clear and exceptional” circumstances.
But this a smokescreen of course. As Liberty’s director Shami Chakrabarti points out on CIF:
The government’s references to extending pre-charge detention use the language of “exceptional” and “reserve power”, but the reality is that the home secretary can activate these powers at any time. There is no need for a public emergency of the type envisaged in the nightmare scenario – indeed, an individual case can be trigger enough.
The new proposals are meant to include parliamentary safeguards, but the home secretary only has to inform Parliament that she has triggered the 42-day limit. Parliament will only be allowed a vote up to 30 days later – and then only if the government is seeking to renew for yet another 30 days. By this time, suspects could have already been held for six weeks. Further, the decision to trigger the 42-day limit cannot be challenged, even if used unlawfully, and the power could not be struck down – does this constitute judicial scrutiny?
The Liberty position is that not only is there no need to extend past 28 days, but the Civil Contigencies Act already makes provisions for emergencies if, in the highly unlikely chance, 2 or 3 9/11s happened on the same day. Liberty’s point is that any extension should first be approved by judges/ministers, while the government is trying to make it so it can detain anyone past 28 days just by shouting “emergency“!
I’m hoping to speak to various campaign groups over the next few weeks to figure out how we can campaign on this issue and increase pressure on Labour MPs to rebel against this bill.
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Filed in: Civil liberties,Current affairs