>There are times when I really wish we were in Government on our own. Then we could simply reduce the pre charge detention time to the matter of hours, or certainly less than a week, that it is across Europe. Then we could completely get rid of measures which restrict people’s liberty when they haven’t been found guilty of anything.
Today’s announcement by Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May on the review of counter terrorism legislation has some welcome steps in the right direction. For example:
- The end of Section 44 searches where Police could stop anyone they felt like or stop people innocently taking photographs
- The halving of pre charge detention
- Legislation will be drafted, but not introduced on extension of powers in an emergency – good because it means that it will be scrutinised when everyone has a clear head, and not in the heat of the moment. As someone said on Twitter, that requires an opposition which behaves like mature adults – but in its absence, our Awkward Squad should do fine
- Control orders as we know them will go, but there will be a replacement which, although not quite as bad, is still subjecting people to sanction without having ever being found guilty of anything. That’s just wrong. There was some hilarity in the house (inappropriate really, given the circumstances) over the difference between a curfew and the newspeak sounding “overnight residence requirement”. It still means that individuals could be put under effective house arrest, but for less time than the current 16 hours under the Labour system.
“We welcome movement on stop and search, 28-day detention and council snooping, but when it comes to ending punishment without trial; the Government appears to have bottled it. Spin and semantics aside, control orders are retained and rebranded, if in a slightly lower fat form. As before, the innocent may be punished without a fair hearing and the guilty will escape the full force of criminal law. This leaves a familiar bitter taste. Parliament must now decide whether the final flavour will be of progress, disappointment or downright betrayal.”
Much more positively, the report includes the replacement of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 – the broad police power for stop and search without suspicion. This follows Liberty’s European Court of Human Rights victory last year in the case of protesters Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton.
Safeguards will also be introduced to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) which allowed councils extensive snooping powers. This follows the high-profile case of Liberty’s client, Jenny Paton, who was subjected to council surveillance for three weeks in 2008. Poole Council claimed that it was acting under the RIPA in order to discover whether the family lived within the catchment area where the children went to school. In August 2010, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled the council’s surveillance of mum-of-three and her family unlawful. As announced on Monday, pre-charge detention will be reduced from 28 to 14 days.