An infringement of civil liberties

THE Government s proposal to increase the number of days a terror suspect can be held without charge from 28 to 42 is appalling. It s an infringement of our civil liberties and fundamental human rights. Yes, a tight definition of the circumstances in whic

THE Government's proposal to increase the number of days a terror suspect can be held without charge from 28 to 42 is appalling.

It's an infringement of our civil liberties and fundamental human rights.

Yes, a tight definition of the circumstances in which the 42-day limit could be implemented has been promised by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith but anyone who takes what a Government minister says at face value is a fool. If the legislation gets through, I'm sure it won't be too difficult to relax this tight definition of circumstances and widen the net.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has threatened to take legal action if the Government goes ahead with the plans, and I hope it carries out its threat.


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It says the new measures breach fundamental rights dating back to the Magna Carta and, not only that, but it threatens equality by targeting one community.

The commission's legal group director, John Wadham, told national media: "It doesn't say that in the Bill, but everyone knows that it is directed at one community. I imagine 100 per cent of the people who are arrested and detained will be from the Muslim community."

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Locking someone up for 42 days will affect a person's home life, their family, their job and their financial situation. It will also affect a person's state of mind, their mental health. If that person transpires to be innocent, that's a hell of a price to pay.

The current 28-day limit should be more than enough time for the police to question a suspect and compile enough evidence to charge a person or otherwise release them.

Britain has faced terrorist threats for decades, but I don't doubt plots are becoming increasingly complex and as a result the complexity of police investigations has increased.

The police must now check email accounts, mobile phone records, encrypted computer data and perhaps weeks of CCTV footage.

They are often faced with investigations on a worldwide scale and may find themselves investigating multiple identities, with it perhaps taking days just to identify a person.

But, according to national media, police chiefs have admitted they have not had a case where they have needed to hold someone beyond 28 days but been forced to let them go.

Sir Ken Macdonald, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has publicly stated that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is satisfied with the 28-day limit, and backed this up with the fact that its counter-terrorism unit has a 92 per cent success rate for prosecutions.

To my mind, the Government is needlessly proposing to curtail people's civil liberties.

I think the measures smack of desperation and a lack of confidence from the Government that any grip on terrorism we may have could be lost. But according to the CPS his fears are unfounded and I think he would do well to hold his nerve for the sake of humanity.

Britain may seem a world away from Guantanamo Bay, but six weeks incarceration without charge could be the start of the slippery slope to years of imprisonment without trial.

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