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.