Wednesday, June 11, 2008

UK Govt seeks 42 day terror detention

An almost empty parliament today discussed a proposed increase of detention of terrorist suspects. The highly controversial bill aims to increase the current 28 day detention of terror suspects to 42 days. The detainment would result in suspects being held without charge and without access to what evidence has been made against the individuals concerned. The Conservative Party has been critical of the bill and safeguards contained within the bill. But Keith Vaz, Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, rebuffed these criticisms saying, “the safeguards that have been put forward are sufficient”. While he conceded there was “no evidence to support a permanent extension to 42 days” he said the committee had voted by 11 to 1 that in the future there may be a need to extend the length of detention given extenuating circumstances, such as a state of emergency. However, Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Attorney General, said that the definition of a state of emergency was “extremely vague”. There was also strong opposition to the bill from the Labour ranks too. Hackney North MP Diane Abbott said the bill would further divide the Muslim community while Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s Islington North MP, suggested that the 42 day extension would lead to further extensions being called for in the future.

Chris Huhne the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman, described the safeguards as “feeble” and said the bill would act as “a recruiting sergeant for extremists”. Aside of this the Liberal Democrat MP said the detention of suspects which turned out to be innocent would result in many ruined lives. If you were picked up by the police under this act, “What would your employer think? What would your family think?” he said. Many might think, “There is no smoke without fire!”

Many have specifically criticised the Civil Contingencies Act saying that safeguards did not go far enough to protect an individuals rights. And while it was only an “emergency temporary provision” Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis said “we do not defend our liberty by sacrificing our liberties”.

But Keith Vaz was insistent that the new powers were needed and did not specifically target certain groups in society. “I would not be voting for this if I felt they [the ethnic minority population] were going to be disproportionately affected” the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee said.

Police have claimed that, under the existing law allowing 28 days' detention before charge, they almost ran out of time to investigate two suspects over the failed plane plot at Heathrow in August 2006. But the pressure group Liberty told the BBC it had learned that the evidence used to charge the suspects had been obtained at four and 12 days respectively. Parliament is set to vote on the matter later today [BBC / Sky News].

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