No evidence to suggest extension of imprisonment without trial is useful...but we still want it

Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary in the UK, has recently been giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee investigating the latest raft of arguably rash and dictator-esque counter-terrorism proposals. One in particular the Government likes to harp on about forever is allowing detention without trial for a good long period of time. 90 days is one favourite figure of theirs.

Yep, they claim that it is fine, in a civilised democracy, to allow people to be locked up for 3 months without any charges being brought against them, any appearance in court or the other checks and balances against abuse that the legal system should maintain. It's nothing new mind, a couple of years ago the 90 days suggestion led to Blair's first ever defeat in the House of Commons.

But they never gave up, either under the Blair leadership or now under the Brown prime-ministery. A debate in the Lords, led by a Labour peer, to allow 60 days detention, which would apparently be equivalent to a 6 month custodial sentence, was also lost.

Eventually, the limit was extended under the Terrorism Act 2006, but to 28 days, which, despite being "the longest period to hold a person without charge in the free world" according to Shami Chakrabati of Liberty, many of our great representatives are still rather unhappy about. Gordon Brown made his pro-90 days feelings clear back in June, and more recently the Home Secretary has been saying "the time is now right" to up the detention without trial time limit again.

So there is presumably some reason for all this clamouring for extensions? There has undoubtedly been at least a few instances where there is some evidence that one actually would have seen benefit from upping the detention period, in these days of evidence-based policy and all? Apparently not. This fact was revealed by the arch-proponent of the increase herself, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith herself during the HASC evidence sessions.

It is rare that the Poorhouse would let a Tory speak for him, but hey, let's not be party-ist for once. As David Davies, shadow home secretary, says:

Yet again we see the Home Secretary forced to concede there is no evidence of a need to extend detention without trial beyond 28 days. Yet again we are offered only speculation about hypothetical scenarios - for which there already exists perfectly adequate laws, if the government has the resolve to use them.

Quite. Why bring in such a dangerously liberty-removing law when there is apparently absolutely no good reason to suspect that it would even help with the problem it purports to solve, let alone whether the sacrifices it entails would be worth it?

For those thinking, well, our Government and other authorities are nice, they aren't going to misuse it - well, for one you are probably wrong, the authorities have already had a spell of detaining people indefinitely (because they were foreign mainly), causing some to suffer mental health problems, before the Law Lords told them they weren't allowed to. At the time, Lord Hoffman said:

The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these

Secondly, to use an admittedly rather cliched argument, we cannot judge the Governments of tomorrow on the Governments of today. Given a rising vote for the British National Party in recent times, who knows what sort of scum might be in a position to use these laws against us one day?

Back to Davis' previously mentioned words of wisdom; he's quite right that laws already exist to cover these situations if they were required in an emergency. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 already permit an extension to no-trial detainment in the event of an emergency, as long as both Parliament and the judiciary oversee it. Described by Shami Chakrabarti as "chilling" enough as they already are, she makes the point that:

The Government already has the power to extend pre-charge detention in this scenario which makes the call for new laws redundant. Politicians must learn to consider the umpteen laws they have already created before taking Britain into a permanent state of emergency and internment.


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