AGENDA: The Ongoing 3ght to Protect Our Country and Our Values; as Opposing MPs and Human Rights Groups Pledge That They Will Continue to Fight the Counter Terrorism Bill in Its Passage to the House of Lords, Ghulam Sohail, Partner and Head of the Criminal Defence Team at Birminghambased Challinors Law Firm, Considers the Fight to Protect Our Country and Our Values
Byline: Ghulam Sohail
Since time immemorial, the remit of our legal system has been to traverse the fine line between the rights of the individual and the protection of society and national security.
On the June 11 MPs faced the difficult task of voting from a political and legal point of view on an issue that embraces two of the greatest modern fears: the fear that we need to act swiftly and harshly to combat the imminent threats of terrorism and the fear that by going against our own democratic principles, we could deteriorate into a police state that leaves itself open to excessive surveillance and injustice towards individuals.
The success of this Bill in the House of Commons has sparked such strong feelings that it has even lead to the surprise resignation of shadow Home Secretary David Davis in order to force a by-election in his Haltemprice and Howden constituency which he will fight on the issue of the 42-day detention. He believes that his actions are a "noble endeavour" against "the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government." His outrage at the principles of the Bill has even united opposite ends of the political spectrum, as Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg revealed that his party would not be Relding a candidate in the by-election, after speaking to Mr Davis.
Nobody doubts that national security must be a priority and that we should do everything in our power to prevent the devastation caused by the July 7 bombings. However, in the war against terrorism, the UK positions itself as a country that champions freedom, peace and the rights of the individual.
The 2008 Counter Terrorism Bill is so contrary to these essential values that it risks violating four articles of the European Convention of Human Rights and faces mass opposition from organisations such as Amnesty International, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, the Muslim Council of Great Britain and the European Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Indeed EHRC leader Trevor Phillips has warned that the Bill will face judicial review even if it passes through Parliament. The Bill now moves to the House of Lords where it is clear that the Government will face a tough battle over the coming months to succeed to this next part of the legislation process.
When we are considering legislation that contests the very principles upon which our legal and political system is based, such as habeas corpus and the view that citizens are innocent until proven guilty, we must be convinced firstly that such legislation is necessary and secondly that it will be effective. Like many Liberal, Conservative and even 36 Labour MPs, I do not believe that the Government have convinced us on either count. Indeed, this vote only succeeded in favour of the Government due to all nine members of the DUP voting for it.
Currently terrorist suspects can be held for 28 days without charge, which is already the longest pre-charge detention period in the western world. MI5 has not called for an extension to this period, nor even offered its official support.
It has been suggested very recently that six cases may have gone very close to the 28-day threshold as police built their case against suspects.
Yet, according to Sue Hemming, head of the counter-terrorism division for the Crown Prosecution Service, there have only been three occasions since 2005 where terror suspects have been held for longer than 14 days.
Taking both of these scenarios at their highest level, it has not been shown that the 28-day limit has prevented prosecutions being brought in any case to date.
High profile figures such as Lord Goldsmith and John Major have even argued that the Bill may have an effect that is opposite to its intentions. Instead of protecting us against terrorism, it risks fuelling the fears of young misguided Muslims who believe that the justice system is 'down on them' and could even act as a recruiting ground for extremist groups. …