UK Liberty

42 days at Harry’s Place

Posted in detention without charge, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on June 3, 2008

Via Liberal Conspiracy, via Program your Mind, i visited Harry’s Place, where there seems to be some support for 42 day detention without charge.

I felt the need to comment, reproduced below (edited below on 5 June):

This isn’t about a current need, there is no evidence for a need (listen to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the former A-G), indeed as the Home Secretary herself admitted it is for when a hypothetical problem becomes “becomes unhypothetical”.

This is about Labour desperately trying to outflank the other parties on terror – trying to look tough on terror – because they are losing the trust of the electorate at an ever increasing pace in every other area of policy (and now this one). Sadly now it is also about saving face, it is about Gordon Brown’s leadership.

Labour have put themselves into a position – they have propagandised the terror threat (I’m not saying there never was one, just that Labour have made it worse, which is Simon Jenkins’ point), forcing themselves to continually pump out terror legislation, and as a result they used up all their sensible ideas a long time ago.

We should not be playing these games with people’s lives.

42 days is the current limit of 28 days plus 14 days (or two weeks). It is a convenient and arbitrary number designed to be as politically palatable as possible. 42 days is not a number based on a practical need supported by evidence.

It is a different tactic to aiming high (90 days) in order to get something lower through while still looking tough. It is only two years since we debated 90 days and got 28 days. Do you think that in another year’s time we will not see a proposal for a further extension? 42 + 14?

Why not make it indefinite, if encryption is so tough and investigations so complex? Why not keep people in prison for ever? Answer: because that isn’t politically palatable, even though it would be better purely in terms of police work than 42 days.

Why not keep an eye on the suspect for lengthy periods of time rather than detaining him? Because it is too resource-intensive and we would rather risk ruining the suspect’s life than invest more money. And the Government wants to – needs to – look tough on terror.

The so-called “Parliamentary oversight” is merely a sop to make MPs feel better about voting for this. But they will be told nothing useful because it could prejudice investigations and, later on, court cases. There is no point in their involvement – indeed it could be counterproductive.

There is no way they can make an informed decision, and as Alistair Carmichael MP said, “People who hope to be due for re-election in two years’ time are not the best people to trust with the liberty of the individual” – in other words they cannot be said to be neutral decision-makers.

We will have uninformed, biassed people voting on whether or not people should be detained without charge for a long period.

Let the judge oversee the extensions. No problem with that at all – they are neutral and informed decision-makers. But shouldn’t we allow the suspect to challenge the circumstances of his detention? The police do get things wrong sometimes, and something that looks suspicious may have an entirely innocent explanation that may not be apparent to the judge without evidence from the suspect (Secretary of State v AH, a control orders case, has an example of this).

In relation to the independent reviewer, yes, great, but this review won’t help the guy sitting in Belmarsh for 42 days with his life in tatters.

“The judicial and parliamentary oversight protect people from just being locked up for 42 days for no reason. Why don’t critics acknowledge this?”

No-one reasonable is saying they will lock up people for no reason – they probably do think they have a good reason, as in the case of Lotfi Raissi or when police arrested some Pakistanis at Gatwick airport. But – as indeed in the case of Raissi – they do sometimes get things wrong. That is why we have to be very careful. Secondly 42 days is a long time. Hell, 28 days is a long time. Do try to imagine what would happen if someone made a mistake and locked you up. What would happen to your life? They might also traduce you in the media, like they did with Raissi.

As for the proposals being better than legislation in France, so what? We’re probably better of than Zimbabweans too. We should be judging proposals on the values of our society, and perhaps also those countries with similar traditions and legal systems. As much as I like France, it is a bit too foreign in this respect.


One Response

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  1. ukliberty said, on June 4, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Sue Hemming, head of counter-terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 5 December, and said of 42 days:

    “We have no evidence to support that we need beyond 28 days. We certainly have not needed it in any case until now.”

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