Bill 'risks undermining counterterrorism efforts'

Tom Griffin
4 July 2008

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): The House of Lords begins debating the Counterterrorism Bill on Tuesday, the day after the third anniversary of the 7/7 bomb attacks in London.

In a briefing on the legislation released today, Human Rights Watch argues that detaining terrorism suspects for up to six weeks without charge violates the fundamental right to liberty and risks undermining counterterrorism efforts.

“The third anniversary of the 2005 bombings in London reminds us that Britain faces a real terror threat,” said Judith Sunderland, Western Europe researcher with the group. “But locking people up without charge for six weeks will not make the country safer. The Lords should take a principled stand against this dangerous and unnecessary proposal.”

42 days in't the only problem with the bill. Human Rights Watch's analysis questions a number of other measures that have received much less attention.

Post-charge questioning without effective safeguards against self-incrimination and oppressive police interviews. The bill allows the courts to draw negative inferences during the terrorism trial when a defendant exercises the right to remain silent after being charged, and fails to require explicitly the presence of a lawyer at all times when a defendant is questioned once charged.

Blanket lifelong notification requirements. Persons convicted of terrorism offenses and sentenced for more than five years of imprisonment must let the police know their whereabouts for their entire lives after they are released from prison. For those sentenced to between one and five years of imprisonment, the requirements last for 10 years. The measure applies even where the person was convicted of a terrorism offense outside the UK. Failure to comply can result in up to five years in jail.

Secret inquests. The power to order, on the grounds of national security, that an inquest into a person’s death be held in secret and without a jury.

A further broadening of the UK’s already overly-wide definition of terrorism.

The dilution of judicial safeguards is not unique to Britain. Human Rights Watch has also published a report on France, which found that minimal evidence is sufficient to place suspects in pre trial detention for months or years.


Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData