Hysterical and Human Rights Obsessed Judges Are Imperilling Our Liberty and Security

Daily Mail (London), October 17, 2005 | Go to article overview

Hysterical and Human Rights Obsessed Judges Are Imperilling Our Liberty and Security


Byline: MELANIE PHILLIPS

ACCORDING to opponents of the Government's Terrorism Bill, it would plunge us into the horrors of 'internment', a 'police state' and even - in the words of one elderly former law lord - parallels with Nazi Germany.

Despite the fact that such reactions betray more than a touch of hysteria and irrationality, they reflect a widely shared opposition to the Bill.

In particular, the judges are squaring up for an epic battle of wills with the Government, presenting themselves as the guardians of essential freedoms against ministers who are threatening to destroy them through such proposals as detaining terror suspects for up to 90 days' questioning.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, has insisted that the judges will not change their approach to terrorism cases and warned the Government not to 'browbeat' them.

The law lord Lord Steyn said that the proposed antiterrorism powers could violate the Human Rights Act. The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith - on the rack as ever - has wrung his hands and said he is not yet persuaded that 90 days' detention is necessary.

Casualties The argument is that fundamental liberties are being sacrificed here for no good reason. Disturbingly, this suggests that - even after the July London bombings - influential people still don't seem to grasp just what we are up against.

Quite simply, the threat posed by Islamist terrorism is so completely different from previous terrorist threats that it requires new attitudes and new procedures to defend ourselves against it. The rules of the game, as the Prime Minister said, have to change.

Earlier this month, a paper published by the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch spelled this out very clearly. In the past, the police waited before making arrests until at, or near, the point of a terrorist attack, so that they could assemble enough evidence to make the case stand up in court.

But unlike previous terrorists, those threatening us today give no warnings and seek to inflict as many casualties as possible.

So the police can no longer afford to take the risk of waiting. To protect the public, they are therefore forced to arrest suspects well before they have finished their investigations. Given the global nature of the terrorist networks, those investigations can involve inquiries on several continents, using hundreds of computers and with many different languages to be translated.

In such circumstances, the two-week limit for questioning is clearly absurd.

Indeed, it has already posed insuperable difficulties in adequately preparing terrorist cases for trial.

To describe the proposed extension as 'internment' or a 'police state' is grotesque.

Internment is the random and indefinite incarceration of a group of people.

What is being proposed, by contrast, is a limited period of detention targeted at individuals in a specific situation.

Despite reports to the contrary, the independent terrorism law watchdog, Lord Carlile QC, has supported the case for a 90-day limit.

Indeed, he underlined how current procedures have left us unprotected when he wrote: 'I am satisfied beyond doubt that there have been situations in which significant conspiracies to commit terrorist acts have gone unprosecuted as a result of the time limitations placed on the control authorities following arrest. This is not in the public interest.' What he criticises as inadequate is the proposed oversight of such detention by weekly visits to a district judge. Instead, he recommends adopting proposals suggested by the Newton Committee in 2003 for a Continental-style 'examining judge' to supervise the whole investigation, hear submissions from a security-cleared lawyer representing the detained person and with a right of appeal.

Although such a system is foreign to our own legal traditions, it might well provide an acceptable compromise between security and liberty to deal with a phenomenon that lies somewhere between criminality and war and which therefore requires new structures to deal with it. …

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Hysterical and Human Rights Obsessed Judges Are Imperilling Our Liberty and Security
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