In the News of the World the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith spoke out at the threat terrorism makes towards Britain and in effect asking for parliamentary support for the Counter Terrorism Bill currently before the Commons. The most contentious clause enables suspects to be held for 42 days without charge, well above any other comparable country and above the current 28 day limit brought in not that long ago.
Given recent court cases which have gone against the Government with regards to control orders and pre-charge detention (Lotfi Raissi’s life was torn apart and he was physically attacked and yet he was completely innocent of all accusations), you’d think that the Government would ensure that the legislation was watertight. Sadly it appears they will just bulldoze it through without amendment. This Government has a long and undistinguished history of this.
Lets be in no doubt, if there is a substantial case for such powers the opposition would be far lesser, but as the Second Reading of the Bill showed, the case is very small indeed with key players outside of the Westminster village rejecting the need for such powers. The Director of Public Prosecutions, who would have to approve the 42 day detention order, has been on record to say that there isn’t really a case for it. As David Davis, Shadow Home Secretary has said, “if the 28-day point is reached, and a policeman has a reasonable suspicion and expects to find the evidence in the 42-day period that the right hon. Lady wants, he can charge”. There is no explanation as to where the 42 days power has come from. Why 42?
The Government has assured MPs that Parliament will have to approve each 42 day extension, within 30 days of a request. That’s not much of an assurance if Parliament must meet at some point during that 30 day period, while someone languishes in a cell, without a charge to their name and that Parliament will not be privy to the full details of the case (understandable really, but its still a farce). An extension can be granted upon “reasonable suspicion”. So no proper evidence of a crime, just a thought that maybe the person has done something illegal? The burden of proof is far too low and available to abuse. Parliament having to deal with such a process would also mean the divide between the legislature and the judiciary being broken. This provision is a worrying idea which destroys key parts of our unwritten constitution and will allow abuse by the Governing party.
A part of the Government’s case has been the argument known as the “Armageddon Defence”, that is if Armageddon is to come surely we need all powers at hand just in case we need them. Which is why the Government has the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. Its bringing up an extreme example to justify heavy actions. A desperate attempt to get support that is more of a sixth form debating tactic rather than parliamentary debating.
It has been a complaint long held by many brilliant MPs on both sides of the Commons that legislative scrutiny has rescinded in the past decade. When the Government get the First reading done, they already have the schedule for the progress of the Bill prepared so that they know exactly when the Bill will be debated and when the guillotine drops on them. The process leads to bad legislation.
As I have outlined, parts of this Bill will have a dramatic impact on this country and all with good intentions, but as anyone will point out, some of the worst horrors on the planet have been done with good intentions borne in mind.