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U-turn on Terrorist Legislation in Britain?

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Tony Blair's heir apparent as British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has announced his intention to strengthen counter-terrorism measures in the U.K. It’s the third time the Labour Party has done so since 9/11 and 7/7.  Brown also pledged to increase parliamentary accountability to ensure that civil liberties are upheld under the new laws.

It remains to be seen whether Brown's rhetoric of maintaining civil liberties is any more than a cover for more authoritarianism. As Blair's closest aide throughout most of his premiership, it is likely Brown supported Blair's terrorism laws, which were often thought to be slowly but surely eroding civil liberties, so we could be in for more of the same.

At the same time, I thought Blair was turning the U.K. into a police state targeting Muslims and driving so-called moderate Muslims into extremism. But Brown seems as eager to uphold civil liberties as he is to tighten measures to stop terrorism. I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, for now.

I support most of Brown's ideas: the use of phone-tap evidence in court, allowing police to continue questioning terror suspects after they have been charged, and allowing judges to consider involvement in terrorist activities as an aggravating factor when adjudicating other crimes. Blair rejected the use of phone-tap evidence in court on advice from security services, that feared it would jeopardize their secretive methods for gathering intelligence. Brown plans to look into ways it can be used without revealing sources to the public.

What I dislike is Brown’s regurgitation of Blair's most controversial proposal that resulted in his first parliamentary defeat – extending the period of without charge detention from 28 to 90 days.

Twenty-eight days detention without charges is as long as anywhere else in the free world. According to human rights groups it is tantamount to internment. It is claimed that  90 days detention is needed because technology can hide evidence of terrorist activities, i.e. to gain access to encrypted hard-drives and data storage devices etc. But British law states innocence until proven guilty, so, until any evidence is retrieved proving they are guilty of something, these prisoners are innocent and should be tagged and released after 28 days – and their hardware kept.

A tag is linked to a satellite system and alerts authorities if you aren't in or around your home for a certain time every day. That way if or when the data is recovered the people could be re-arrested. Ninety days detention without charge is too likely to be abused.

Blair was defeated on the 90 day proposal because of opposition by the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and some Labour back benchers. Constitutional Affairs Minister and deputy Labour leadership candidate Harriet Harman thinks that this time it will be different, that Parliament will support Brown's measures – including 90 days detention – if Brown can make a good case that the measures are necessary. She said she didn’t think
“there will be a huge problem if there is a proper debate about it — if evidence is brought forward about why current powers are inadequate and what the safeguards will be." Her sentiments of support for the new proposals were echoed by the other deputy leadership candidates, Hilary Benn, Hazel Blears and Peter Hain.

Conservative sources say there is no new evidence to support the need for longer detention. Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesman Simon Hughes warned Brown that he will have a fight on his hands if he attempts to increase detention without charge period for terror suspects. In an attempt to sweeten the proposal, Brown has insisted he will ensure a judicial review of extended detentions is undertaken every 7 days. It is difficult to predict whether that will counteract the level of opposition to the plan.

Apparently Brown is to put the phone-tap proposal to the cross-party Privy Council for discussion, which is honouring his pledge to make the government more open and accountable on its new course. Lord Carlisle, the government's independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation welcomed Brown's proposals, saying he thinks it’s time for the political parties to get together “and to try to reach a consensus with the government, so we can move forward on terrorism legislation on the basis of fitness for purpose, rather than having a hot political debate about these desperately difficult and important matters."

What detracts from this is the fact that Brown first released word of his proposals to the Sunday papers instead of the House of Commons. And just five days before Home Secretary John Reid was due to present his terrorism measures to the house, throwing any idea of even party consensus on dealing with the terror threat out the window – let alone cross-party consensus. This also suggested Brown does intend to be authoritarian in his leadership and his terrorism measures – it's my way or no way.

I don’t believe 90 days detention is necessary because it’s like sending a bear to catch a mouse. I see no reason why the tags can't be used to strengthen existing control orders. Brown's leap to Blair's 90 day detention plan backs up claims that he was staunchly behind Blair's legislation.
Brown's latest is much like his vision for his premiership when Blair steps down. The new measures for terrorism are slightly different than Blair's, but on the whole I'd say we can expect more of the same.

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About Liam Bailey

  • moonraven

    And those 22 Usual Suspect Pakistanis? Are they still on the payroll?

  • Dr Dreadful

    I don’t know, MR, but al-Qaeda, or whoever the idiots are that planned July 7 2005, have achieved what the IRA never did: Britain now has a siege mentality.

  • Graham McKnight

    Dr Dreadful,

    What a brilliant insight! I shall keep your comment in mind when discussing such matters with my peers.

    A sincere thanks!

  • Dr Dreadful

    You do that, Graham.

    And I feel that your sarcasm (if that is indeed the intended tone of your comment to me) would be better directed at the multi-monnikered oaf who has been savaging you on those other two threads.

    It appears that you were not of an age to fully appreciate events or the public mood at the time when mainland IRA activity was at its peak. For long periods they had the whole country on edge, and for good reason. There literally could be a bomb in every rubbish bin, under every bus seat, inside every parked car. The IRA high command knew exactly how to strategize so as to cause maximum terror.

    But the British public didn’t buckle: we got on with it. We grew to loathe the IRA and all it stood for and we weren’t about to give them the satisfaction of cowering in our homes. In that aim, the IRA failed miserably. It took them a long time to realize it, probably because they were fighting a much more successful campaign of terror and intimidation at home. But it’s a good part of the reason why the IRA no longer exists as a practical terrorist force, and why McGuinness and Paisley are now sitting down to govern together.

    Yet now, prodded by hysteria from across the Atlantic and one showy stunt (excuse my describing 7/7 as such, but that is what the “Islamists” seem to go in for) and Britons are suddenly supposed to cede their civil liberties for an illusion of safety.

    Let the police, the intelligence services and the military learn to deal with the “Islamists” as they learned how to combat the IRA. It will take time, but in the long run it will make us safer, and rather than hide behind draconian and unnecessary laws, rather than seeing the bogeyman in every brown face, we can get on with the business of Britain, which is the best way by far of telling terrorists to go screw themselves.

  • Graham McKnight

    Dr Dreadful,

    No! I really meant what I said, I respect your opinion on this issue! Does the word sincerely not mean anything these days?

    I am sorry for any unintentional offence caused!

  • Dr Dreadful

    I’m sorry too, Graham. I can be a cynical sod, like a lot of the buggers on this site. I guess something about the way you worded your comment set me off.

    On the topic of your little run-in: I tend to steer clear of commenting critically on those issues – not because I’m afraid of incurring the wrath of the Jewish Nation, but because I don’t feel knowledgable enough about Israel to debate them strongly. But you seem to be pretty comfortable about tackling the subject, even with an intellectual heavyweight like Ruvy. Are you majoring (excuse the American expression, they tend to rub off on you) in Middle Eastern Studies?

  • Graham McKnight

    No problem Dreadful, I am doing something called a Disseration in Israeli-Arab relations (I’m not sure if those of you in America know what I mean by ‘dissertation’). The title of my dissertation is entitled ‘Israeli Histories of the Six Day War’.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    Graham,

    just FYI, one of the requirements for obtaining a doctorate in America is a dissertation.

  • Graham McKnight

    Clavos,

    Thanks :)