What can I say? When MPs voted in favour of 42 days detention as part of the Counter-Terrorism Bill last Wednesday, I was appalled, disgusted and angry.
The proposal has come under severe criticism from human rights group Amnesty and civil rights group Liberty. Senior Police officers have spoken out against it saying that it is not necessary and that it will damage relations with Muslim communities and put pressure on the police to find or even manufacture evidence. The Labour government have also come under criticism for Whips pressuring Labour MPs to vote in favour and there are even allegations of deals with other political parties to ensure votes. There are those who suggest that Gordon Brown forced it through as a show of political will and power. Shadow Home Secretary David Davis of the Conservative party has resigned from parliament intending to stand in a by-election on the issue of civil liberties and privacy. The Liberal Democrats have stated they will not be fielding a candidate against him and Labour may also do the same. All along the government have insisted that this is necessary for the security of the nation.
What is this 42 days? It gives the police the right to detain a suspected terrorist (also known as a member of the general public) for 42 days without charging them. The government suggests that this will give police officers time to collect the necessary evidence. During this time, the detainee is held in police custody without any requirement that reasonable evidence be produced that connects them with a crime. It is possible that a person could be detained for the full six weeks and then released without any evidence linking them to any crime. In the meanwhile, this person’s personal life, career and reputation have probably already been ruined. It is already possible to detain a person for 28 days on suspicion of terrorism, extending this to 42 days just seems like an open invitation for the state to intimidate and oppress its citizens.
All is not yet lost. The Bill must first appear before the House of Lords, who may still reject it and send it back to the House of Commons. Neither does the public intend to remain quiet in this issue. Back in 1215, the citizens of the UK forced the forced the King to sign the Magna Carta – a document specifying among, other things, certain rights of the citizens which had to be observed and protected. This included habeas corpus, the right to appeal against unlawful imprisonment. If the Bill becomes law then by definition this will be lawful imprisonment. However, it does feel like we’ve regressed several hundred years but this time we’re protecting ourselves from our own democratically elected government.