British police powers toughest in Europe
The Guardian, Alan Travis, home affairs editor, Thursday October 13, 2005
FO dossier shows suspects will be held longer in UK
British police will have the toughest powers in Europe to detain suspects without charge, a Foreign Office comparison of counter-terror laws reveals. The study, ordered by Tony Blair, was supposed to bolster the government's case for its anti-terror legislation by showing how moderate the new proposals in Britain were compared with continental equivalents.
In fact, the dossier shows the opposite: police in countries such as France and Spain can detain suspects without charge for less time than the 14 days the British police are allowed at present - a substantially less time than the three months proposed under the anti-terrorism bill.
The survey also shows that Britain will be out on a limb in Europe if it presses ahead with its plan to deport terror suspects back to countries where they may face a risk of torture or ill-treatment. The dossier was published yesterday alongside the government's new terrorism bill and a report from Lord Carlile, the official independent reviewer of the government's anti-terror laws.
The home secretary, Charles Clarke, also published details of his plans to make it easier to take away the British passports of dual nationals who engage in the new official definition of "unacceptable behaviours" that are thought to encourage terrorism.
He also announced plans to deny asylum to anyone who has in any way been associated with terrorism around the world and to speed up the deportation of those who face exclusion on national security grounds. They will still have their day in court to challenge their removal on human rights grounds but will be allowed to challenge the national security case against them only after they have left the country.
The legislation contains few new proposals but confirms that the revised "glorifying terrorism" offence is now much more tightly drawn with the police having to prove that such statements were intended to incite further acts of terrorism.
Lord Carlile gave his broad support to the legislation. But he raised concerns about the proposals to outlaw terrorist training camps.
Lord Carlile said he had particular worries about the detention for deportation of the Belmarsh 10 who had been under control orders in the absence of a current "no torture" memorandum of understanding with the countries to which they would be deported - in this case Algeria.
The Home Office minister, Hazel Blears, argued against using the Foreign Office dossier to make a direct comparison between different legal systems: "It shows how different countries approach these difficult issues but it's then not fair to say our police are going to have draconian powers." The survey shows that in France the maximum period of police detention is four days while in Spain it is 13 days pre-charge. But in both cases once suspects are charged and handed over to the judicial authorities, they can be held for between two and four years before they have to come to trial. In Australia the pre-charge period is only 168 hours.
"The difference in the UK is that once the 14-day period is exceeded the barrier comes down and the police can no longer question somebody once they have been charged. This is not the case in France and Spain where the person leading the investigation is an investigating magistrate," said a Foreign Office official.
But Mark Oaten of the Liberal Democrats said the survey undermined the government's case: "Keeping suspects in police detention for three months would be radically out of step with our European and Commonwealth partners. Where other countries hold suspects for long periods there are safeguards in the form of an independent judge who decides if there is a case to answer."
Definition of terrorism
Detention without charge
Encouraging or glorifying terrorism
Disseminating terrorist publications
Preparation of terrorist acts
Training for terrorism
Making and possessing nuclear devices or materials for terrorist purposes
Consent to prosecutions
Proscribing extremist groups
Immigration law changes
Those facing deportation in national security cases will only be able to challenge the national security case for their removal once they have left the country. They will, however, be able to appeal to a British court before their removal on human rights grounds.
Stephen Grosz, head of public law and human rights at the solicitor Bindmans, said: "The government has left out the 'intent' from the clause outlawing glorification of terrorism. Now you can be in danger of negligently inciting terrorism ... There was already an offence of incitement to terrorism in the 2000 act. For detention of suspects, 90 days is the equivalent - in terms of time served - of a six-month prison sentence. No justification has been advanced for showing why it should be such a long period."
Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said the measures were misguided. "Since 9/11," he said, "895 people have been detained [for suspected terrorism offences] but of those more than half, 496, were released without charge. These arrests have caused disquiet and anger. If the government was to extend the period to 90 days, it would be unacceptable ... It will be counterproductive. On the threats to prosecute trustees of mosques and close mosques down, the government has not produced the evidence. The radicalisation is occurring outside the mosque network.
Ken Jones, chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officer's (Acpo) terrorism committee and chief constable of Sussex police, said: "This bill recognises the changing nature of the terrorist threat and that the police response must change with it. Powers to outlaw the glorification of terrorism and a new offence to tackle those planning acts of terrorism will make a significant impact on our ability to root out terrorists before atrocities occur. The threat we face ... continues to evolve and our response must evolve with it. ... We need to recognise investigating and prosecuting a global ideologically motivated movement demands a different approach.
Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said: "Plans to allow three-month detentions without charge will have a severe impact on community relations. This would allow for the equivalent of a six-month custodial sentence ... If the police have genuine difficulties in gathering evidence we should look for more proportionate ways of dealing with the problem. Extension of the grounds for proscription will criminalise support of non-violent political parties. The implication of criminalising such organisations on the basis of their opinions is incredibly dangerousfor a democratic government to consider.
Janet Paraskeva, Law Society chief executive, said: "We recognise the government has a duty to protect us from the threat of terrorism. In doing so, it must strike the right balance between safeguarding national security and protecting rights such as free speech ... We are pleased the home secretary has removed the clause on glorification. But we are concerned the legislation does not yet reflect the need to prove intent ... Fourteen days is a long time to hold a suspect without charge. The government should provide more resources to the police and security services rather than extend detention to a length of time tantamount to internment.
Owen Bowcott and David Pallister