- why I opposed the Government
Detention without charge (also see my letter to the Evening Mail on the 2008 debate on detention for 42 days)
During the Report Stage of the Terrorism Bill on Wednesday 9 November, I voted against the Government’s proposal to detain people suspected of terrorism for 90 days without charge. As was widely reported, the Government lost this vote and MPs agreed an amendment which extended the current length of time that a terrorist suspect can be held without charge from 14 to 28 days.
Although I have my concerns about the extension of the current limit, I supported the ’28 day amendment’ as to do otherwise would have resulted in the 3 month fall back position originally proposed in the Bill. The Government deliberately tabled the 90 day amendment to be debated first to add an additional hurdle to consideration of the 28 day amendment. If they had won the vote on 90 days detention without charge, the 28 day amendment would not even have been considered.
I am prepared to accept that there may be grounds for extending the present 14 day provision for detention prior to charge but the case has not been made out, even in the briefing material produced by Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman of the Metropolitan Police Service, sited by the Government.
In the case of the so called ‘ricin plotters’ acquitted in April 2005 of conspiracy to commit murder, A.C. Hayman alleges that a ‘suspect who fled the country while on bail and who eventually proved to have been a prime conspirator would have stood trial in this country’. Again, he failed to mention that this person was released by the police (by their own decision) after just two days in police custody – 14, 28 nor 90 days detention without charge would have made no difference.
Also, as Gareth Pierce, a well-known lawyer in this field, has pointed out, Police investigations invariably continue after suspects have been charged and there are numerous instances where charges are added, withdrawn or amended after a suspect has first been charged. There is a misconception that accused persons may not be questioned by police after they have been charged and remanded. Where ‘new and significant’ evidence emerges, the police may make an application to interview someone who has been already charged. Gareth Pierce gives the example of the discovery of a ‘lock up’ garage containing incriminating material but this could well apply to evidence awaiting investigation, such as encrypted evidence as described in A.C. Hayman’s briefing. I put this point to the Home Secretary during the Third Reading debate on Thursday 10 November but my concerns and the expertise of Gareth Pierce were brushed aside.
Glorification of terrorism
At the end of the Commons stage the Bill was still in need of further amendment, particularly on the wide definition of terrorism and on the provision relating to the glorification of terrorism. I anticipate that there will be further amendments in the House of Lords removing or amending clauses relating to the glorification of terrorism from the Bill.
The importance of avoiding miscarriages of justice
When considering these matters it is important to remember that the concern isn’t whether we would like to see terrorists detained for 90 days without trial, but rather, do we want to see innocent people, including ourselves or our relatives, detained for 90 days without trial. The many miscarriages of justice of the past should weigh heavily on our consideration of these matters.
What happens next?
As a result of Parliamentary scrutiny so far, the Bill is in a much better state than when it was originally introduced by the Government and I am hoping that further amendments will ensure that I can support the legislation when it returns to the Commons. It is particularly important that offences relating to acts preparatory to terrorism should be put on the statute book not least because in many cases, this would obviate the need for the use of control orders or house arrest, as provided for in the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act, passed earlier this year.
Other relevant postings:
House arrest - Terrorism Bill 25 February 2005