UK Liberty

A ‘concession’ on 42 day detention without charge

Posted in detention without charge, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on February 27, 2008

Anthony Barnett at OurKingdom:

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): While Sunny Hundal tries to gather everyone (including a 5,000 facebook users) around ‘Not a day Longer’ and Shami Chakrabarti’s Liberty issues pungent press statements and Henry Porter warns and fumes and Stuart Weir posts in OK, the government inches forward. The latest “concession” to quote the spin – which even got into the headline as if it was the report of a fact – of this morning’s Guardian story by Nicholas Watt, is a jaw-dropping disgrace.

Jacqui Smith is to offer a concession to backbench Labour MPs in an attempt to avoid a damaging rebellion against the government’s plans to detain terror suspects without charge for up to 42 days.

Government sources indicated yesterday that the home secretary was prepared to accept a backbench amendment which would give parliament a far greater role in monitoring such detentions.

Under the proposal, MPs would be allowed to debate a decision to invoke the emergency powers within 10 days of a government decision. At the moment MPs would only be given a say within 30 days, a proposal seen as largely meaningless by critics…

One government source said: “We are getting there slowly. The 10-day idea will help colleagues who need to be nudged. We accept that the diehard opponents will not sign up.”

The new amendment is being drawn up by Martin Salter, Labour MP for Reading West. He is a member of the home affairs select committee, which argued last year that the government had failed to “make a convincing case that the current limit of 28 days is inadequate”.

Salter says it is time to move beyond debating the number of days. “We have got stuck in a sterile debate on the number of days. We need to move the debate to ask: is it parliament or the judiciary that should call the home secretary to account? It is MPs that need to have that oversight.”

There are few things more insufferable than MPs telling us how they are the guardians of our liberty and all the great things about Britain while the executive laughs up its sleeve and voters snort with derision. Salter is preparing to be a sell out.

No, Martin Salter is a sell out – very strongly for ID cards, very strongly for Labour’s anti-terrorism laws.

Of course the judiciary with greater independence, less needs for jobs, and under stricter guidelines, who have to provide the oversight not MPs. Just this weekend I ran a piece on how even Michael White seems to be shocked at the facility with which MPs were parted from their oversight powers by the Government. What is serious about what is happening is that the government are buying votes by making paper concessions to ensure they have a majority however slender.

With respect it seems like standard fare to me. Offer a high price and allow yourself to be knocked down to one that you actually want, while not conceding any ground on what really matters (compare the Dutch auction over 90 days) – being able to detain people without charge.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, [said]:

“This is a completely illusory safeguard because parliament would not be allowed to have a meaningful debate about an individual.”

Well, quite, as a member of the Home Affairs Committee recently pointed out (see Uncorrected Oral Evidence):

Q168 Mr Clappison: I accept what you say on that, Home Secretary, but there is a difference between a general statement to Parliament and the sort of scrutiny which you are describing, which is Parliamentary scrutiny to see if a condition of legislation is fulfilled, and your condition of legislation here, before the reserve power can come into force, is that the investigation gives rise to an exceptional operational need. The question I will put to you, if I may, Chairman, is how on earth can MPs investigate the evidence, the facts, the circumstances as to whether or not there is an exceptional operational need when an operation is ongoing and there may be all sorts of factors which cannot be revealed to Parliament? How can MPs scrutinise that properly to decide whether or not that condition has been fulfilled?

Jacqui Smith: Firstly, there are, of course, four opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny in the proposals that I am putting forward: (1) there is the discussion that will happen during the course of this Bill so we can actually talk about different scenarios and circumstances in which it might happen, (2) there is the requirement for the Home Secretary to report to Parliament and the discussions that may well go on around that, (3) there is the debate at 30 days and the motion, (4) there is the subsequent debate on the report of the independent reviewer as to whether or not the Home Secretary was reasonable, carried out the decision in an appropriate way. It is the Home Secretary’s decision to make a judgment under the provisions that we have put forward. What I am saying, however, in these circumstances is that I think we have gone a considerable way to recognising the role of Parliament in being able, pre the decision, to think about the circumstances and, post the decision, scrutinise.

See also Gary Streeter’s questions at Q171-6, which Home Secretary Jaqui Smith decided to evade.

What really matters is that MPs will not be able to properly scrutinise the decision at the time about the most important issue – the individual, you know, that person who is going to be banged up without charge for 42 days.

Nor, as I have argued, should they be allowed to – they cannot be reasonably said to be informed and neutral decision-makers.

Indeed, as Jaqui Smith herself said,

I do not think it is the role of Parliament actually to make decisions about individuals. I think that is the role of the judicial system, which is why we have been very, very clear that individual detention will need very strong judicial oversight in the decision-making, and that, I think, in our system, is where we place responsibility for decisions about individual detention.

So then what is the Parliamentary scrutiny actually about?

In short, it is a fig-leaf, designed to make MPs feel better about locking someone up.

Can we not dispense with this sham?

Update

Why is the Times describing this as a “major concession”?  It isn’t a concession at all.

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