42 days?!

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.

Cath has written informed and excellent posts about the detention issue and the David Davis resignation. Do read them.

9 Responses to “42 days?!”

  1. 1 cath June 18, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Thanks for the plug!

    I take it you’ve seen David Davis’s new campaign website,

    The public response has been amazing – David Davis has really struck a chord with people who didn’t realise politicians were capable of caring about big issues any more – all across the political spectrum.

    It would be brilliant if the debate could stay focused on the wider issues and the rest of the vast iceberg of which 42 days is truly only the tip 🙂

  2. 2 Clare June 18, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    I’m interested to see how this all develops. Civil rights have been slowly eroded away for several years now, so I really hope that this does bring it into the spotlight and that something productive comes of it. I think the David Davis website could do with a bit more on the issues and a bit less florid politic language.

  3. 3 Hugh June 18, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Might it be worth mentioning too that the last minute amendments seem to make this legislation all but unworkable anyway?
    I’d be particularly interested to hear your thoughts on the provisions for parliamentary scrutiny – I’m not too clear on the detail, but this struck me as undermining the independence of the courts, since parliament would be voting on the conduct of specific cases?

  4. 4 cath June 19, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    We’ll have to wait and see how the House of Lords responds to it. It won’t become law for a while yet.

    One amendment was a compensation package, which i think involved compensating anyone who was held for longer than 28 days if they turned out to be innocent. This is from memory, so i could be wrong in the details. But as i read somewhere, this would have resulted in the novel situation that someone who was lawfully held, could be compensated for it. It was basically a sop to people who were iffy about the whole idea (tho obv not iffy enough!)

    It would have seriously undermined the independence of the courts if parliament had to vote on it. Seriously. An independent judiciary is a precious thing. Politicians whose only aim in life is to get re-elected, and the house of commons is stuffed with them, are in no position to think an independent thought about legal cases even supposing they had the necessary expertise.

    We just need to hope that the Lords will reject it. They can hardly have failed to notice how desperately unpopular it is, as well as authoritarian.

  5. 5 cath June 19, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Oh – and – “if they turned out to be innocent” – already you can see the creeping tendency to overlook the principle of ‘innocent UNTIL proven guilty’ in action !

  6. 6 Clare June 22, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Thanks for your input, Cath! I haven’t had a chance to read up on all the amendments and comments yet, I had heard a bit about that unconvincing compensation deal. Hugh, I pretty much agree with what cath says but if I have any more thoughts, I’ll add them here. At the moment, I’m mainly waiting to see what the House of Lords does and then to see how the House of Commons responds.

  7. 7 Hugh June 23, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Mm, yeah, I think the wording Jacqui Smith used about the compensation package was “if they are not charged with any offence”. I’m not sure if that’s not just loose wording, but it sounded like this would apply not just to terrorism offences or need to be related to the original investigation, that the police could escape the need to pay compensation by laying trivial charges against suspects.

    Do we know when this will be coming up in the lords? Roughly? I forget how long these things take.


  8. 8 Clare June 23, 2008 at 10:35 am

    It looks like they’ve already started looking at it, although I presume they haven’t got onto the detention issues yet or we’d start hearing about it in the media. The second reading is scheduled for July 8th.

    There’s an overview of the its progress and accompanying materials here: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2007-08/counterterrorism.html

    Progress so far can be found on this page: http://bills.parliament.uk/AC.asp

    Finally, if you want to take a look at the Bill itself, it’s here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmbills/063/08063.i-v.html

    I certainly hope we hear something about it soon.

  9. 9 grammarking June 26, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    The logic behind the bill isn’t even internally consistent! They really haven’t thought this through at all, it’s obviously just a way to look tough on terror.

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