Thursday, 24 June 2010

Tory Home Secretary Fails Latest Civil Liberties Test

What is it with the Com Dem government and its love of setting up reviews? Today, Home Secretary Theresa May announced another one, this time on the detention of terror suspects for up to 28 days before they are charged. In spite of all the civil liberties rhetoric that the Conservatives embraced before the election, she also extended the current provisions for another six months. Britain therefore continues to have the longest period of detention without charge of any western democracy.

But there is no need for a review, because there is little evidence to justify extended pre-charge detention. As figures released by the Home Office in May showed, there were 1,471 people arrested for terrorism between 11 September 2001 and 31 March 2009, but only six were held for the maximum 28 days. Around half were detained for less than one day and two-thirds for under two days. Most of those arrested were later been released without charge. Not a single person has been held for more than 14 days without charge since Labour dropped plans to raise the maximum to 42 days in October 2008.

May's statement today claims that the extension is necessary to "support the police and other agencies in their work to keep us safe from terrorism", because "the nature of modern international terrorism means that police investigations can be longer and more complex than they have been in the past". This is exactly what New Labour ministers used to spout when they were in office but, as the figures show, prolonged detention resulting from the supposed complexity of police investigations is extremely rare. It was nonsense before and it's still nonsense when it comes from the mouth of a Tory.

So why hang onto draconian provisions that both the Conservatives and Lib Dems criticised when they were in opposition? Could it be that the Tory backbenchers are rather less enthusiastic about civil liberties than Cameron and his new Lib Dem friends?

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