POST DEBATE: Free to Be Terrorised: Judges Can't Improve on Bad Laws; the Proposed Legislation Carries Too Many Dangers, Says Birmingham Law Society President Steven Jonas

Article excerpt

Byline: Steven Jonas

Due process of law and equality before the law matter. It matters that I can walk down the street without fear. It matters that I know that if a crime is committed then the guilty will be found, given a fair trial and, if convicted, punished. In the world we live, we have an effective police force and an effective court structure to administer the criminal law.

There is no doubt that the hierarchies of Stalinist Russia and apartheid South Africa claimed that detention, without trial, of 'known' terrorists was essential to safeguard the rest of the population, as the same is claimed in countries like Burma, even today.

But they were not, and countries like Burma still are not, democracies. We can recognise that because an essential ingredient of any democracy is that no one should be imprisoned without due process of law, without knowing the evidence against them, and without having the opportunity to challenge that evidence in a court of law.

We have perhaps the most extensive anti-terrorist laws in our history. Under current anti-terror laws, you can hold suspects for up to 14 days.

Of course you put such suspects under extensive surveillance. Of course you arrest them. …