Review of terror laws: New name for an old problem

时间:2019-11-16  作者:阳济�  来源:电子艺游网址平台  浏览:44次  评论:110条

Goodbye control orders, hello terrorism prevention and investigation measures: a knowing laugh rattled around the House of Commons yesterday as the home secretary set out . The government has debated, reviewed, paused, scratched its head and changed the language, but it has not found a way to abolish in full the distasteful practice of restricting the liberty of terror suspects without the prospect of prosecution or trial. As such it has fallen short of hopes of ridding the law of this particular bit of authoritarianism, though it proposes removing many others that have done more to destroy confidence within the Muslim community. The former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, appointed as a sort of official marker-in-chief of the Home Office's homework on terror laws, made his concerns about this clear yesterday in a report that otherwise mostly supported the government's plans. His endorsement has spared Nick Clegg the car crash the coalition feared.

Yesterday's Commons statement, and two accompanying reports – the Home Office review of security powers and Macdonald's critique – are the result of a deal between the demands of the security services and the requirements of the rule of law. In many respects, this deal is a very good one, but commending some of its parts is not the same as approving of them all. Unfortunately the government's proposals sustain – and by removing the need for regular parliamentary renewal arguably entrench – the home secretary's ability to restrict the liberty of citizens without putting a case against them or securing a prosecution. The terms of these restrictions are to be improved, and only a very small number of people may ever be subject to them, but the fact remains that control orders are not so much being scrapped as redecorated. This is a hard thing to stomach: certainly Liberal Democrats in the government fought to find an alternative, before running up against the fact that it is easier to hold absolute opinions in opposition than put them into practice.

As points out in his elegant and level-headed report, "the British are strong and free people, and their laws should reflect this". Under Labour, this point was sometimes forgotten. Yvette Cooper, the new Labour shadow home secretary, would have done well to admit yesterday that the government is undoing some of the damage left by her colleagues.

It is to the coalition's credit that it has carried out a serious review that will improve the law without taking obvious risks with security. Concern over its proposals on control orders should not take away from this. In general, the balance of anti-terror powers should shift as a result from the routine to the exceptional. The maximum pre-charge detention of terror suspects has been halved, to 14 days. Stop and search powers are to be restricted, with the repeal of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Bans on photography will be discouraged. Councils will no longer be able to spy on parents who want to send their children to a popular school. The threatened ban of groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir won't happen.

All this is excellent. On the successor to control orders, however, there is work to be done. Macdonald says that it "may be appropriate for the state to apply some restrictions" on people suspected of terrorist activity but who cannot be prosecuted immediately. The challenge is to make eventual prosecution the aim; the present system makes it almost impossible. He proposes a scheme more closely connected to the process of evidence gathering. The government wants instead to get rid of the worst of control orders – particularly internal exile and house arrest – and limit them to two years. But the precise terms of their replacement have been fudged. Campaigners should not fall silent on this, just as the state has begun to listen.