British parliamentary democracy is finally working properly again. By a vote of 322 to 291, MPs yesterday rejected the proposal for a maximum limit of 90 days’ detention without trial.
MPs then backed, 323 to 290, a motion to extend the detention time limit from the current 14 days to 28 days. That’s not a great result, but it’s far, far better than the original.
Why? It is possible to imagine your normal life suddenly being stopped for 28 days, but despite the trauma, it probably would be possible to pick up more or less where you had left off after that. But after 90 days, if you were a student, you’d have lost a year of classes; if you had a mortgage, you probably would lose your house. Your life would be, if not wrecked, then substantially wrenched off track.
The government must not be allowed to do that to innocent people if it can’t even come up with a charge to be placed before a court.
But, I hear the “law and order” types say, people will only be arrested and held if they deserve it.
My answer to that is a cautionary tale.
If you’ve ever wondered what causes those “security alerts” on the Tube (well in addition to those cases where someone gets hysterical about a forgotten bag of shopping), read this detailed account of a man who “caused” one, or rather led a police officer, for no discernible reason except, presumably, that he or she didn’t like the look of his face, to initiate one. He was guilty, he was told, of the following offences:
* I went into the station without looking at the police officers at the entrance or by the gates, i.e. I was ‘avoiding them’
* Two other men entered the station at about the same time as me
* I am wearing a jacket ‘too warm for the season’
* I am carrying a bulky rucksack
* I kept my rucksack with me at all times (I had it on my back)
* I looked at people coming on the platform
* I played with my mobile phone and then took a paper from inside my jacket.
Luckily for this gentleman the government hadn’t yet got its detention provisions through, but even so his life has been turned upside down.
I’ve done every single one of those things, as I bet has every other reader who has ever lived in London. But if a police officer doesn’t like the look on your face, is bored and fancies a bit of excitement, or on some other whim decides to take against you, just imagine being locked up for 90 days while every single aspect of your life was gone through with a fine-toothed comb.
Find more like this on Philobiblon.