Home Secretary’s anti-terror plans abandon vital safeguards

11 December 2007

Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti said:
“A new discursive tone cannot mask an old divisive message. The only ‘consensus’ is of opposition to extending the longest pre-charge detention in the Western world. The Home Secretary wants an “on-off button” to intern suspects - not in times of emergency but at moments of convenience. She strains to dismiss rational alternatives. So-called parliamentary and judicial safeguards are close to laughable.”
The Home Secretary today gave evidence on Government anti-terror proposals before the Home Affairs Select Committee, which will publish its findings within days.
Flaws in the anticipated Government proposal to extend pre-charge detention include:
● powers for the Home Secretary to extend pre-charge detention in individual cases beyond 28 days without any evidence of a genuine emergency situation.
● weak Parliamentary oversight as MPs are not allowed to vote when powers are activated.
● inadequate judicial oversight, as the courts will not be able to review the decision to extend pre-charge detention.
Liberty has expressed disappointment at Government proposals to extend pre-charge detention beyond 28 days for terror suspects and points out that a growing consensus believes that no case has been made for these new powers. Liberty has instead suggested the following counter-terror proposals be pursued:
• Remove the bar on the use of intercept (phone tap) evidence because its inadmissibility is a major factor in being unable to bring charges in terror cases. Liberty has given evidence to the Government’s Privy Council review on intercept evidence.
• Allow post-charge questioning in terror cases provided that the initial charge is legitimate and there is judicial oversight. This will allow for a charge to be supplemented with further offences at a later stage.
• Hire more interpreters: Prioritise the hiring of more foreign language interpreters to expedite pre-charge questioning and other procedures.
• Add resources: More resources for police and intelligence services.
• Emergency measures in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 could already be triggered in a genuine emergency in which the police are overwhelmed by multiple terror plots, allowing the Government to temporarily extend pre-charge detention subject to Parliamentary and judicial oversight. Safeguards offered by Government offer far less protection than those offered in the Civil Contingencies Act.

Contact: Jen Corlew on 0207 378 3656 or 0797 3 831 128
Notes to Editors
1. On 6 December 2007 the Home Secretary announced new anti-terror proposals which will be included in new legislation to be introduced in early 2008.
2. In December 2007 Liberty formally launched its “Charge or Release” campaign to stop Government plans to extend the period terror suspects are held without charge. Liberty is mobilising its members, the public and politicians to oppose any extension beyond the current 28-day detention period, which is nearly four times longer than that of most comparable democracies. Liberty’s “Charge or Release” campaign adverts which compare pre-charge detention periods in 15 democracies will run in national newspapers and be displayed on billboards across London. See www.chargeorrelease.com for more information.
2. On 12 November 2007, Liberty released a comprehensive study of terrorist pre-charge detention powers in 15 countries, including the United States, Spain, Russia, France and Turkey. The International Charge or Release study, based on advice and assistance from lawyers and academics around the world, demonstrates that the existing 28-day limit already far exceeds equivalent limits in other comparable democracies.
3. Some countries have very similar criminal justice systems to the UK, making comparisons straightforward. No two legal systems are exactly the same but difficulties in drawing comparisons can be over-played. None of these permits pre-charge detention for anything as long as 28 days. In countries that do not have the exact concept of “pre-charge detention”, like France and Germany, lawyers who contributed to Liberty’s International Charge or Release study qualified in those jurisdictions have identified the closest equivalent.