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Which part of “No” does New Labour have a problem with? When the Home Secretary advocated extending the time that the police could detain a terror suspect to 90 days in 2005 the House of Commons refused to ratify the change. The then home Secretary Charles Clarke was told in no uncertain terms that such a change was unacceptable. It was not the first time that the proposal had been put forward. Mr. Clarke’s predecessor had also tried something similar and been refused. In Mr. Clarke’s case the Home Secretary had been found to be in breach of the existing law and was forced to release several terror suspects that had been detained on his Ministerial order. The point was that they were only suspects, none had ever been charged with an offence, none had been brought before a court and all seven of the detainees were being held in prison. The law of Habeas Corpus had been disregarded completely by two successive Home Secretaries and both had strayed across the clear dividing lime between the powers of a politically appointed Minister of Her Majesty’s government and the powers of the Judiciary.
The times were fraught with fears of impending terrorist attacks following the London bombings, which were laid at the door of Islamic fundamentalists and to be candid a small minority of Muslim extremists were behind the bombings. It was claimed that Draconian powers were needed to deal with the terrorist threat. Strangely such powers were not required when the Irish Republican Army [The IRA] started bombing mainland Britain but then an Irish terrorist is virtually indistinguishable from Mr. or Mrs. Average UK citizen whereas Islamic fundamentalists frequent Mosques and live in insular communities that co-exist but do not integrate with UK society.
At the height of the IRA campaigns bombs claimed the lives of British citizens in several major cities including Birmingham, London and Manchester but their greatest outrage was the bombing of the Conservative party conference in Brighton. The Brighton bombing was clearly an attempt kill The Prime Minister, the full gamete of Cabinet Ministers, as many of the Members of ruling Conservative party as possible and a great number of senior civil servants yet the government of the day did not seek the powers that successive Home Secretaries of the present administration maintain that they need to fight the terror threat from a minority of Muslims.
If the IRA had succeeded they would have wiped out the entire government, forced a general election and plunged the UK into a constitutional crisis.
The attack by the Islamic fundamentalists on 11th July killed fifty-two people in London, an outrage by any standard but compared with the atrocities planned by the IRA they were amateurs. The attack usurped the terror-spectacle of the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York and the government’s effort to secure powers that would enable a politician and that is exactly what the Home Secretary is, an elected politician, to lock anyone up that is “Suspected” of being a terrorist. The very idea of such a measure changes the presumption of English Law that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and assumes a guilt that the accused has to disprove. That is if the “Suspect” that has been detained is ever charged with an offence, which under the powers sought might never happen the detention could be indefinite. In the UK and in many countries that owe the origins of their legal system to English Law if someone is detained indefinitely without charge and without arraignment in a court of law then a writ of “Habeas Corpus ad subjiciendum” can be sought requiring the authority detaining the “Body” to produce it in a court of law so that the legality of the detention can be examined and approved or rescinded by a judge. The law has been on the UK statutes for more than 300 years. It was intended to protect the rights of the individual against unlawful imprisonment and ensure personal freedoms.
Under the intended powers now being sought by Gordon Brown [not quite a Prime Minister] a suspected terrorist can be detained for up to 90 days without charge. When that period expires the suspect could be released and re-arrested immediately and the 90 days begins again from the time of the second arrest. There is no requirement to give a reason for the arrest. The Writ of Habeas Corpus applies, in particular where a detainee is being held “Incommunicado”. If the measures are granted that is exactly how these terror suspects will be detained but the law of Habeas Corpus will not apply.

That we need anti-terrorism laws is beyond dispute but they must be formulated in such a way that the rights of the individual are protected and they must be honed to target terrorism specifically and nothing else. The way they stand at present they are a universal tool, which, both government and law enforcement agencies have used with impunity if the terror laws can be applied to a situation. The police prefer to use the terror laws because the powers they bestow enable detention periods they find useful when applied in deference to the “Regular” criminal law. Government seems to favour the terror laws to control reaction to its restrictive policy decisions.

It should not be possible to apply the terrorism laws to a situation where terrorism is not a factor but that is not the case. Two years ago at the Labour party conference in Brighton Jack Straw [Home Secretary 1997-2001 and then Foreign Secretary stood to address the conference. He was interrupted by an 82 year-old Labour party member of 56 years standing.

The statement that Jack Straw made that brought forth the heavies to remove the 82 year old from the visitors gallery was, “We are in Iraq for one reason only to help the elected Iraqi government build a secure, democratic and stable nation” and that in itself was thought to be the “Trigger” that solicited Walters response of “Nonsense” but Jack Straw also compared Iraq to Germany after World War Two, where it had taken four years before elections were held.

Had he known that Walter was “In the house” that day he might have chosen his words with more care as not only was Walter vehemently opposed to what he saw as the illegal war in Iraq but he was also a holocaust survivor of Nazi Germany. Walter was removed from the conference by “Stewards” who bore a striking similarity to the heavies one might find outside a Soho nightclub with a brief to “Look after the door and keep out undesirables”, they often refer to themselves as “The Management”.

The following day the press was full of the scandalous treatment of an 82 year old Labour party veteran being manhandled from the conference by “Labour party bouncers” but only one newspaper picked out the charge that Sussex police detained Walter under, it was a terrorism act. Walter was not actually charged with an offence but he was excluded from the conference for the rest of the day.
It might be said, ”It was a mistake the party machine does not do such things there is a right of free speech” but during the Labour party conference of 2005 there were more than 600 arrests emanating from the conference and all of the arrests were made under the terrorism Acts. A classic case if one was needed of the misuse of a piece of legislation that successive Home Secretaries maintain that they cannot do without.
As Gordon Brown “Struts his stuff” and advocates a much tougher line on terror when he assumes the mantle of leadership he has made it very clear that one of the powers he will seek is that 90-day detention period. So far the Commons have approved it twice but the House of Lords have refused to let it pass to the statutes, they hold that it is open to misuse. They have agreed to fourteen days, they are prepared to allow twenty-eight days if it is by the order of a judge but 90 days is still far too much power to give any politician.

The law that silenced Walter Wolfgang was The Terrorism Act of 2000, under section 44 the police, can and do arrest anyone and hold them without charge.

In the land of free speech where our leaders of whatever colour say “They will not win, ever” it is possible for anyone to find themselves taken into custody by the police under section 44 of the terrorism act, all it takes is for the wrong word to be said in the wrong place. In this case the word was “Nonsense”. If you were among those who said, “It can’t happen here” then look around, it already has and it will happen again.

Successive Anti-terrorism Acts have been placed upon the UK statutes and whilst they allow for sweeping powers to combat the evil they have also eroded the rights of the individual to a point where under the right circumstances the average citizen has few rights left. It is in the perception of what constitutes a terrorist anyone can be a terrorist. A trade unionist prosecuting a strike or industrial action, a civil rights activist campaigning for greater freedoms, an investigative journalist that will not give up they are all at risk of imprisonment if they offend the right [or wrong] people.
When they tell you they need to lock someone up for three months at a time we must be very sure that they do.


Posted: June 6, 2007 

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