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June 07, 2007

When discussion means nothing of the sort

Today's Government Discussion Document Ahead of Proposed Counter Terror Bill 2007 reads like the minutes taken from a conversation between John Reid and a flunky in the back of the ministerial limo taking the self proclaimed Terminator from the Houses of Parliament to the Home Office. At least they remembered to remove point 21: "Erm, I think that's about all. Flick through the Sun and see if there's anything I've missed."

It is not as though anyone even bothered formating it properly, so point three contains a phrase in larger type than the rest of the sentence - "...new drive, more cohesion and a greater strategic capacity in the fight against terror". Surely they weren't trying to emphasise this, were they?

Of the three key elements trailed in advance, pre-charge detention ('90 days' to civil liberties nerds), is first up with three measily points. Only three are needed though, apparently, as 'The decision to increase pre charge detection limits from 14-28 days has been justified by subsequent events. That means we have been able to bring forward prosecutions that otherwise may not have been possible.'

Really? Note that weasily 'may' lurking five words from the end. May. Not 'would'. And the evidence? None presented. Thus the debate is not about whether 90 days (or even 28 for that matter) is an issue, merely how to do it. See what they did there?

Point 7 highlights that in 'terrorist' cases suspects can be questioned after charge on any aspect of the offense for which they have been charged' (Reid's emphasis). Sounds fine. However, in the broader context of 'terror' legislation, the police have been free with the use of prevention of terrorism powers - octogenerian cause celebre Walter Wolfgang being a fine example. Please do correct me, but what is to stop police circumventing the non-terrorist law by charging suspects of non-terrorism activities under terrorism legislation? A minor point perhaps, but I'd like to know, nevertheless.

'The police have identified some circumstances in which it is necessary for them to have a self-standing power of entry and search of premises to enforce and monitor the control order effectively.' And these are, precisely? Without going into the decided dubious case for control orders and their affront to habeas corpus, once more this is not a discussion, still less a debate: no case is made beyond the fact that 'the police' wish it. I'm sure some wish some offences resulted capital punishment, but that doesn't mean it should be so.

Intercept as evidence: as Taking Liberties director, Chris Atkins reasoned on FiveLive this morning, use of intercept evidence in trials is not per se a bad thing. However, past experience of the governance surrounding terror measures suggest that it needs robust accountability, residing with the judiciary, to prevent abuse of the system.

The wording of point 18 is typically meaningless:

The right approach is to address this carefully and fully before deciding on whether to use intercept as evidence. That is what we are doing. However we believe that we now need to reach a conclusion on this issue. Therefore, subject to further discussions to agree the structure and timescale, I am today announcing that we will commission a review of intercept as evidence on Privy Counsellor terms.

"We need to make a decision, so let's launch an enquiry." Now I'm not absolutely certain, but would I be right to assume 'Privy Counsellor terms' would not be entirely public and transparent?

And then stop and search. This one's been kicked into the long grass. Or so it was reported. I'm not so sure - all the document says is that they are consulting on it. Don't believe the spin.

So finally, you are exhorted to be involved in the consultation via the Security website.Well, not quite. You are asked to email your comments to [email protected]. So that's okay then.

So what do we do? First off, I suggest we all email proposing a more open forum for discussion. Secondly we debate and always CC the email address, to keep them in the loop as it were.

Still, my hunch is that based upon this document, discussion on the issues is not what Reid wants. The assumption is that the majority needs to work out how to circumvent the pesky minority, so as I contend, this is not really a discussion at all. No change there then.

June 7, 2007 in Observations | Permalink


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