Locking people up without trial

It is difficult to believe that yet another Labour Prime Minister, and yet another Labour team of senior law officers and Home Secretary have bought the crazy idea that to protect our liberties we first need to destroy them.

I find 28 days detention without trial or charge bad enough – the longest period in the free world. Doubling it to 56 days would make us a pariah of the free democracies, turning our back on the important advances this country pioneered to establish that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and has a right to life and liberty unless charged with a serious offence, the charge backed up by evidence and supported as a case to answer by a junior court.

Yesterday in the Queen’s Speech debate on security and crime I asked the Lord Chancellor (Jack Straw) if it really could be this government’s policy to let proven criminals who had been sentenced for serious crimes out early in order to make prison places available for people for up to 56 days against whom no charges were laid. He told me my question was not up to my usual standard. This was I guess a kind of back handed compliment, but answer came there none. So I take that to be a "Yes" then.

I do hope the government thinks again about this. I like them wish to prevent terrorism. The way to do it is not to change the rules of a free society, but to use them to ensure justice is done. By all means charge a terrorist suspect with a lesser charge and then take the power to carry on examining him or her to see if they should also stand trial for a more serious charge. A Court should be involved in the process so there is some external check on its use. iI necessary part of all of the proceedings could be in camera to protect the identity of informants and witnesses. Allow the prosecution to use in court all the evidence that led the authorities to suspect the individual in the first place. It is farcical if there is good intercept evidence that someone is about to commit a terrorist act, but this cannot be used so the authorities have to spend 56 days on a fishing expedition to try to find some other evidence.

We need to take tough action to try to prevent terrorism, but we must avoid locking up hundreds or even thousands of people -we are told there are 2000 being monitored – when we cannot bring any charge against them and when some if not many of them will be innocent.

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12 Comments

  1. Tony Makara
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    The detention issue says something more fundamental about the natural instinct of a Labour government to exercize its power over our citizens. We have seen a proliferation of CCTV cameras, of speed cameras, the planned introduction of ID cards, people having their DNA taken and filed for the most trivial of offences. We have seen our children fingerprinted at school and we now have all our confidential medical records stored in a national database. The Labour government has consciously set out to stamp and index our people.

    It is worth us bearing in mind that in our history we have never experienced such a long period of Labour rule and that we are beginning to see that the longer Labour are in office, the more confident they become about rolling back our civil liberties and creating an all powerful, all controlling state.

  2. Simon_C
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I think the current 28 days is obscene. Extending it further would be horrendous.

    It would be difficult enough for an innocent person to put their life back together after 28days in custody, after 56 days, (two months !! ) it would be next to impossible.

    The only reason I've heard for extending the time is "for forensic examinations of computer equipment". Adding another bit to encryption key lengths doubles the time it takes to decrypt encrypted data. Filling a few hard disks with random data will slow down the authorities, or maybe just having some old disks that have been used in non-standard systems and being a hardware hoarder like me.

    I don't know enough about the legal systems and standards to know the potential problems of still investigating after charging, but it seems to me that that has to have less of an impact on liberties than holding people for two months without charge.

    Reply: the issue of difficult codes to crack has been solved. We have made witholding the code an offence, so they can be charged with that whilst the authorities try to crack it.

  3. Paul
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    An interesting "crime". Anyone who really wants to hide stuff (e.g. terrorists) will encode things in such a way that it's impossible to actually figure out whether there's any code there at all – e.g. embedding it into a picture.

    The "code" offence only works if they are dim enough to have a file called something like terrorist_plans_encrypted.dat

  4. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    This confirms in my mind a dangerous combination of Brown's natural inclination and determination to exercise and extend state control over civil liberties combined with his obsession to play party politics at every opportunity. He engenders an environment of fear in order to exploit it for his own political advantage. Good governance will be under constant threat so long as this man is Prime Minister.

  5. Steven_L
    Posted November 9, 2007 at 3:35 am | Permalink

    I'm no expert on computers but know enough on the basics of computer forensics to know that the more money you spend the quicker you can get the necessary work done.

    Twenty-eight days is a relatively short amount of time to go from seizing a load of computer equipment to charging someone with serious terror offences, however with a big enough team and budget it should not be impossible.

    Surely they should make sure the authorities are properely funded, there should be detailed contingency plans to draft in extra manpower, and access to a 'war chest' of funding when such seizures take place.

    In the private sector centrally imposed top-down targets can be justified for time lost (such as ICT failures or fluctuations in manpower) so there is no reason why top-down public sector targets can not be adjusted to take into account reallocation of human resources.

    Locking suspects up for longer and longer does seem to be the lazy solution, a cop-out if you like.

  6. apl
    Posted November 9, 2007 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    JR:

  7. Stuart Fairney
    Posted November 9, 2007 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    The advocates of 28 or 56 days imprisonment before any charge must ask themselves one important question they seem to ignore. Would they accept the jailing of themselves or a family member because someone in the government was suspicious of them (possibly quite incorrectly) for 56 days? I would not and it’s no good saying this would only happen to terrorists, because giving the state this power, gives them the power to arrest anyone for this length of time. It’s a giant step down the road to a police state and those who can’t see this are sleep walking.

  8. Ken Adams
    Posted November 11, 2007 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Reply: I trust not. I will be pushing for repeal of the long detention period.

    Given the question was:

    "Now what would the next Tory government do about it? Which of the Labour

  9. apl
    Posted November 12, 2007 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    KA:

  10. Ken Adams
    Posted November 12, 2007 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    With respect when you answer the question posed by assuring us that you will ONLY repeal the extension of the increase in the period of detention without trial, you obviously do not have problem with the other incursions on our basic freedoms introduced by this government.

    So we will only know what is nonsense when we see which of the many incursions on our freedoms the Conservative Party will repeal if elected to office. Sorry but I believe the time of simply trusting our political leaders to do the right thing is past.

    Reply: For heaven's sake. If you read this blogsite you will see I oppose this government's incursions into our freedoms on a regular basis. E.g. We would repeal ID cards if they have gone through before the election. If you must send me a list of ones you dislike and I will tell you if there are any I would keep.

  11. Ken Adams
    Posted November 13, 2007 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood, please do not take my comments personally, there are those who have made clear their antipathy to the loss of the peoples rights against an increasingly powerful government, I count you amongst them. In an ideal world we could trust you to do the right thing because you have made your personal position clear and we know what you stand for, but in these days of consensus politics conviction politicians are becoming a rarity.

    So until it becomes Conservative party policy to roll back the power of the state, reassert the peoples basic rights of protection against their government , reassert the concept of innocent until proven guilty in all cases and return the burden of proof to the state, then we must assume that you are speaking for yourself and not the party.

    There was a similar situation with regard to regional government, your position is quite clear, you would get rid of all levels of regional government except in those areas where they had been confirmed by a referendum. Mr Cameron on the other hand would retain the Regional Development Board level in some form or other, according to the speech he made in Birmingham earlier this year.

    What I would like to see is the removal of all the incursions this government has made into English Common Law concepts, which in effect means standing up to the incursions made through EU legislation, which is based on a different system.

    You asked for a list, I am sure you will know which of our rights have been under attack, they include the following – We have also seen our rights attacked by the extension of use of state sponsored of civil law, the removal of the division of powers, where the police and other agencies can act without first obtaining a warrant, and the extension of the agencies who are allowed to apply sanctions fines etc without trial and the extension of the powers of agencies other than the police.

    All this is to bring us in line with the EU norm.

    right to silence
    rights to peaceful protest
    rights to peaceful assembly
    freedom of movement
    rights to privacy and security of property
    presumption of innocence
    freedom of association
    freedom of expression
    right to a jury trial in all cases before sanctions are applied
    right to a fair trial
    freedom from arbitrary arrest
    double jeopardy rule

    These attacks are contained in the following acts.

    The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005
    The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005
    The Civil Contingencies Act 2004
    The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Communications Data) Order 2003
    The Criminal Justice Act 2003
    Extradition Act 2003 (implementing the European Arrest Warrant
    The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002
    Social Security Fraud Act 2001
    Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001
    Football (Disorder) Act 2000
    Terrorism Act 2000
    Police Act 1997
    Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
    The Identity Cards Bill

    Reply: Thank you for the follow up. I agree that our freedoms need restoring by repeal of many authoritarian acts by this government. I will be pressing for their repeal to be included in the next Conservative Manifesto. We have opposed most of these measures as a party.

  12. APL
    Posted November 14, 2007 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    JR: "I agree that our freedoms need restoring by repeal of many authoritarian acts by this government. "

    I think doing so would be a shrewd political move as well as 'the right thing to do'.

    I am sure there would be a great deal of support across the political spectrum for a party that gave such undertakings. When Brown says, "you would expose the british people to risk…" Tories could say, 1. The british people are not afraid. 2. The Labour leglislation has singularly failed to protect the british people as witnessed by the London tube terrorist bombings.

    Removing centralised political control of the police and giving it back to local control (locally elected sherrifs?) would also appear to be in tune with the current Tory policy of 'localism', for example.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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