Charge or Release was Liberty's succesful campaign against plans to extend pre-charge detention to 42 days.

Why is Charge Or Release important?

In December 2007 the Home Secretary proposed extending the then pre-charge detention limit of 28 days to 42.

Liberty argued that there was no evidence to suggest that an extension was necessary or justified, and suggested better ways of meeting all the Government’s arguments for longer pre-charge detention.

We were concerned about the counter-productive effect that these proposals could have on police and community relations, and the message that would be sent to the international community if Britain adopted such an unjust policy, so clearly out of step with comparable democracies.

Although plans to extend pre-charge detention were narrowly passed in the Commons in June 2008, by 315 votes to 306, the vote saw a huge Labour rebellion.

The campaign continued to grow in strength over the following months, and on 13 October 2008 an overwhelming defeat in the House of Lords prompted the Government to drop the proposals, in a clear victory for Charge or Release.

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Tell me more about Charge Or Release

  • We obtained advice from lawyers and academics around the world which showed that the UK already has the longest period of pre-charge detention in the western world. A graph displaying this stark comparison became the central image of the campaign. Read the updated report (PDF)
  • Advertising billboards and newspaper adverts displaying our comparative graph ran in towns and cities around the country and in the constituencies of numerous MPs. 
  • We gathered a real consensus (PDF) with pledges of support from prominent political figures, lawyers, NGOs, trade unions and human rights activists including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the late anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman, and Professor Noam Chomsky.
  • We commissioned a YouGov poll which revealed that 54% of the public believed that the Government’s motivation for extending the pre-charge detention period was to look “tough on terror”. Only 13% supported an extension to 42 days.
  • On the eve of the crucial Commons vote, celebrities and politicians joined Liberty staff and volunteers for a protest outside Parliament, where we released 42 Charge or Release branded balloons. Have a look at our photo gallery.
  • On the day before the House of Lords vote we launched 42 Writers for Liberty, an online anthology of writing about the issue of pre-charge detention by 42 UK writers, including Philip Pullman, Monica Ali, Ian Rankin, Alain de Botton and Ali Smith.


28 Days

In 2010 we continued the Charge or Release campaign, arguing that the 28 day pre-charge detention limit was also unjust and unnecessary. We called for the pre-charge detention period to be further reduced.

We argued that:

  • There was no evidence that the police needed 28 days to gather information to charge suspects. 
  • The UK Government was able to hold terror suspects longer than any comparative democracy. Read our 2010 report (PDF) comparing equivalent limits in other countries.
  • 28 days is a long time to be held in prison without being able to challenge the evidence against you. In fact you might not even be told why you are being held. 28 days pre-charge detention undermined British traditions such as the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial.
  • It is counter-productive - lengthy pre-charge detention divides communities, it could make us less safe.
  • There are alternatives to lengthy pre-charge detention. Removing the ban on intercept (phone tap) evidence in criminal trials, allowing post-charge questions and hiring more foreign language interpreters, amongst other measures, could help in difficult cases. 

MPs needed to vote every year for the 28 day period to be maintained, and in 2011 the period was allowed to revert to 14 days. The pre-charge detention limit for terror suspects was permanently reduced to 14 days by the Protection of Freedoms Act which was passed in May 2012.