Awaiting their lordships’ verdict

LAST time the Commons debated the 42 days detention proposal, Labour peer Helena Kennedy QC wrote to the Grauniad stating that government whips were using her alleged support for the measure to try to convince dissenters to get in line. In fact, the Baroness pointed out in her letter, she was against the measure (of course).

I don’t know if the whips had tried to use this particularly ill-judged incentive to win the vote; my view at the time was that telling back benchers that Helena Kennedy was against the measure would have been enough to swing more than a few votes the government’s way.

Today, inevitably, the Lords will vote down this measure. Such a move will be welcomed by the civil liberties groups (Shami Chakrabarti will have a very busy schedule flitting between studios), as well as by the legal fraternity (represented by) the Tories, the LibDems and some on Labour’s back benches (including some who, only a few short weeks ago were appearing on telly to lecture colleagues about loyalty to the prime minister: “Labour in chronic irony shortage shock!”).

It’s no secret that, along with the great, wise majority of our nation, I support a radical extension of the length of time the police can detain terrorist suspects without charge. I don’t see it as a civil liberties issue at all – more of a civil protection issue. I won’t rehearse all the issues now because, unfortunately, most people have made up their minds about where they stand, and aren’t going to change their minds now. Not yet, at least.

So the Lords will knock it back to us in the Commons, and we’ll have another vote on it, which I hope we will win. However, given the arithmetic in the Commons, that’s not guaranteed. If it falls in the Commons, then it’s game over. But only for now.

Because events, sometimes terrible events, happen. At some point in the future, the government will receive enough support to extend pre-charge detention to 42, or even 90, days. I hope it is done at a time where the arguments can be aired and analysed in a calm, rational atmosphere.

My greatest fear is that if the current proposal falls, the next time we debate extending pre-charge detention will be in the aftermath of another terrorist outrage. Undoubtedly, that will be called scare-mongering, as were all the warnings that were heard in the run-up to 7 July 2005.

UPDATE at 7.36 pm: As expected, their noble lords bottled it and defeated the government by a whopping majority of 191. I fear they won’t be the only people celebrating tonight. The government is to make a statement at 8.30 pm on its response.



Filed under Conservative Party, Government, Labour, LibDems, Media, Parliament, Politics

21 responses to “Awaiting their lordships’ verdict

  1. Annie Besant

    Was it you i read about in the paper yesterday? That you are living in such a bubble that you did not even know your way home after your chauffered car was removed? And you wonder why voters find you so repellent?

  2. Congratulations on having such a fine sense of humour. Nights in with you must just fly by…

  3. Viceroy Sir Cecil McDavidson VII

    “Sacked minister positions himself to get back into government at next reshuffle.”

  4. I generally take ‘your’ side if I comment on anything in this blog, but this time I’m going to have to disagree. But as you quite rightly point out – there’s no real point in rehashing all the arguments.

    I’m just not sure there’s ever going to be a time where those arguments “can be aired and analysed in a calm, rational atmosphere”. There’s going to be scaremongering on both sides. The supporters will claim that if it doesn’t pass, we’ll all get blown to smithereens, and the detractors will argue that you ‘orrible lot in (or formerly in) government will lock us all up indefinitely.
    I guess it’s just up to each of us to individually try to wade through the noise and make our mind up.

  5. Julian Gall

    Your piece begs two questions. Firstly, how would extending pre-trial detention to 42 days prevent a future terrorist attack? Secondly why, in the event of a future terrorist attack, would it be necessary to detain suspects for 42 days to have any chance of bringing a sucessful case against them? For many people, the answers are not so blindingly obvious as they must be to you.

    For the arguments to be “aired and analysed in a calm, rational atmosphere”, those like you who want 42 days need to answer these questions. Your link in the piece above to your “support” for 42 days just goes to a post where you say you support 42 days because 90 days wouldn’t stand a chance of being passed. That’s not rational analysis. You need to explain why, if you’re so keen on 90 days, you’re not keen on indefinite internment. Perhaps you are. If not, why not?

    You say you don’t see this “as a civil liberties issue at all”. I can see you might think other considerations outweigh the civil liberties issues but how can locking someone up for 42 days, when they may be released without charge, not be a civil liberties issue? Would you be prepared for a member of your family to be detained for 42 days or would you be fighting to have them released?

    Perhaps you could devote a blog post to this matter and provide a couple of realistic scenarios where 42 days would be essential in preventing an attack. Please give evidence also as to why your scenarios are realistic and an assessment of how realistic they are. e.g. 30% of possible terrorist attacks could be prevented by 42 days detention but not by 28 days. If you don’t think it’s possible to be specific, how do we know the percentage isn’t 0.1% and therefore not worth it?

    On the other hand, if you just think the longer we detain suspects the better (which seems to be your position), just say so.

  6. Chris' Wills

    So you are really wanting to intefere in peoples lives again.

    Some people get rat-assed and cause trouble, the vast majority don’t. Labours and the SNPs solution, punish everyone for the crimes of a few.

    Add this to your desire bang up people without trial for 42 days with no chance of sueing for wrongful arrest (I believe the act says some along the lines of credible suspicion; nothing about who defines credible apart from the home sec a political figure hardly independent).

    The person held is DNAd, fingerprinted etc and I suspect these will be reatained whatever happens, his employer fires him for being AWOL (as he hasn’t been charged the police aren’t required to let the person call home) or being a security risk . Whatever happens, if innocent he is now tarred and the police will try and get him on something late to justify their kidnapping and future employers will look askance as he has a “record”.

    The persons life is damaged and they have no recourse to justice. It’s normally fascist or communist states that go in for this type of illiberalism (yes I consider Austria, Germany and France as illiberal as they have similar laws for other ideas they oppose).

    So you ban drinking to go along with banning smoking in public (the public drinking ban already exists in some “public” parks) then hold people for 42 days for objecting (we all know only terrorists object to the goverment).

    Really Tom, the way you (plus the rest of Labour) and the SNP talk it isn’t just a nanny state it is a fascist state you desire.

    The terrorists have won, liberty is forgotten replaced by repeated claims of “security over all” which I’m sure will include wrong speech and wrong thought if you can manage it.

    People who forgo Liberty for Security retain neither.

  7. Johnny Norfolk

    The problem is Tom it wont just be used for terrorists.

  8. Why do you say that, Johnny? Isn’t that exactly what was said when the limit was raised to 28 days? How many “innocent” people were detained under that law? The thousands predicted by our opponents? Or fewer than ten? Go on, have a guess…

  9. Brian Hall

    Tom, your government used the same legislation to kick out a Labour party member from a conference two years ago.

    At this rate, we’ll all be terrorists by tea-time.

    This legislation is pointless. M15 says its a joke, the public are neutral, the Lords look like the good guys on this one. Are you sure your common sense compass is well grounded here Tom?

    I’m also amused by the extension under some curious grounds that it takes the Police 48 days to process evidence.

    What would happen if you gave the builders 42 days instead of 28 to build a conservatory.

    Do you think they would start work on it on day 1?

    Do you think they would finish at 28 days?

    This legislation is ill thought out and fundamentally immoral.

  10. davidc

    1 how many suspected ‘terrorists have been detained for 28 days ?
    2 why are former holders of high legal positions in your government saying 42 days is unworkable and unnecessary ?
    3 there are even dissenting voices in the police service
    4 what guarentee have we that, should such legislation come into effect, that ‘creep’ will not take place (legislation respecting possible terrorist activity being used to spy on people ‘suspected’ of trying to get their child into an out of catchment school, freezing icelandic bank a/c’s – but this was done using that part of an act not totally about terrorists ho ho).
    5 even if such legislation were passed it would probably fall at the first challenge under ‘human rights’

    face it ‘when you are in a hole, stop digging’

  11. This is what people are sick of – good guys being locked up and louts getting away with it.

    As I have said before, the Government, police and judiciary are targetting the law-abiding public.

    We are being trained to fear authority AND the criminals and louts.

    Please forget about incarcerating people for over a month without evidence and do something about all these other miscarriages of justice.

  12. Andrew F

    I remember giving you grief about this when it was going through the Commons. (Back in the days when this blog was a quiet affair.)

    I still think you’re missing the point about civil liberties. If you believe in the concept at all, then pragmatic arguments become somewhat less relevant. Liberties aren’t supposed granted for the good times in order to be suspended in the tough times. Their whole purpose is to set a standard that we don’t trample over just because it happens to be convenient.

    It’s not that you’re scare-mongering, Tom: your fears are legitimate, and we all share them. But the real evil is giving into those fears – we’re better than that, and the law should be better than that.

  13. No, Andrew – the real evil is detonating suicide bombs in a crowded underground train.

  14. Madasafish

    Well as has been proven by recent events, Governments use anti terrorism legislation to do anything, support for the 42 limit is totally indefensible without proper safeguards..

    We know from Lord Glodsmith there are none. I believe he was a Labour Minister and some kind of lawyer 🙂 so I back his judgement better than your Tom.

  15. Well Tom I disagree quite profoundly. I think it is slight of hand to make this a civil protection issue. Of course, terrible things happen but is it not the case that 7/7 would have happened even if 42 days had been in place because none of the suspects were deemed a threat.

    This shows how misguided we are in fighting this ‘war’ by massively extending state powers. In fact, it is counterproductive. Furthermore, I have to say that this issue is a perfect example of why I am no longer in the Labour Party and glad of that fact….

  16. Johnny Norfolk
    October 13, 2008 at 4:30 pm
    The problem is Tom it wont just be used for terrorists.

    Tom Harris
    October 13, 2008 at 4:32 pm
    Why do you say that, Johnny?

    Haven’t we just seen the example of ‘feature creep’ in laws by the use of the 2001 Anti Terror Legislation to seize the assests of an Icelandic bank?

  17. Andrew F

    Nice soundbite – not much of an argument, though, Tom. How would you feel if I said the real evil was 90,000 dead civillians as a result of that pesky war you voted for? I guess that would be vacuous? Ignoring the wider point?

    You’re happy to simplify when it suits you.

  18. Martin Cullip

    The Lords will throw out 42 days and quite rightly so.

    There is no guarantee, as Johnny Norfolk said, that this will be used for just those the public (NOT Government or LAs) view as terrorists. Davidc pointed out examples of current terrorism legislation being used extensively on the public, and even friendly neighbouring countries – you mention that 28 days hasn’t been abused yet, but Labour’s track record doesn’t inspire any confidence that it, or 42 days, won’t be widely abused in the future.

    Nor do the plans for asking teachers to report kids who might be being turned by ‘extremism’. Seeing as the document sent to teachers mentioned right wing groups being as ‘dangerous as Al Qaeda’, it seems to be setting a wide net as to how the powers are to be used.

    … put all these together and it’s not impossible (considering the vast amount of idiots involved along the command chain) that a wrong word from one of my kids in class could end up with me being phone-tapped by MI5 and then banged away for 42 days for a throwaway line like “Gordon Brown needs to be shot for voting for a blanket smoking ban”. 😉

    You can’t possibly, with a straight face, support 42 days when previous anti-terrorism laws are currently being used to spy on people who drop litter. Jackie Smith said it would only be used in exceptional cases IIRC. If Labour had clamped down on councils extracting the urine prior to that assurance, you could have saved a lot of us from surgery to stitch together our sides from prolonged bouts of hilarity after we heard her speak. 🙂

  19. David P

    I have any number of concerns with the arguments made by pro-civil liberty groups but in this instance I am genuinely aggrieved by what I feel is self-indulgent naivety in the face of an undeniable and continuously evolving threat to our way of life and one that presents a continuous challenge to those who keep us safe at night.

    My main concern is the way in which these proposals are portrayed as an erosion of liberty by an over-zealous, scare-mongering state.

    The only permanent statutory provision for pre-charge detention is 14 days and this must be authorised after 48 hours by a judge. It has been confirmed that the present temporary provision on 28 days remains appropriate in terrorist related cases and will continue to be reviewed annually by Parliament. However, the requirement to address the projected evolution of the terrorist threat and given that there are already cases that have involved the use of the full 28 day period before a charge could be secured, it is prudent now to prepare and provide our security services with the tools they will need in the coming years.

    This Bill does not propose a permanent statutory pre-charge detention period of 42 days. The Bill proposes a RESERVE POWER that would provide an ability to temporarily extend the current temporary upper limit of 28 days on an incremental basis to a maximum period of 42 days. It has been made very clear that this provision would only be made available in the most serious of circumstances and then would have to satisfy a number of safeguards and oversight procedures.

    Primarily a clear and comprehensive case would have to be made by the relevant agencies to the Home Secretary based upon the prevalent threat assessment. If the government was satisfied that this assessment merited the implementation of the proposed RESERVE POWER the temporary extension of the pre-charge detention period would come into force for no more than two months and would be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny as soon as was practicable.

    If the temporary power was enabled by Parliament the pre-charge period would still operate in exactly the same way as it does at present – any extension past 48 hours requires the express approval of a judge who would only be empowered to grant up to 7 days extension at a time based upon their assessment of the case as it was put to them. Should the powers be approved and then utilised Parliament will be told of any person or persons held under them and will retain the right to quash its implementation and then order the release of those held therein. Further, each application for extension, successful or not, will also be subject to full independent review.

  20. Martin Cullip

    David P: It was all looking good until “If the government was satisfied …” 😉

  21. Brian

    I’m alarmed by your statement ‘The Lords Bottled It’. Surely the Lords voted with their conscience; unlike MPs who showed their true colours by voting with their wallets.

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