March 8, 2005

Terror Bill simplified

Posted in Civil Contingencies Act at 4:01 pm by David Gould

Sent to my MP, Valerie Davey, courtesy of

Thank you for your letter of 3rd March.

I agree that in the next 50 years, a WMD-type scenario in Britain is likely and we should be prepared for it. Indeed it is better to be prepared for it now, rather than rushing in overzealous legislation when it’s too late. Preparation also includes extra emergency services on standby which, as I understand it, we simply don’t have.

Compared to ID cards, control orders is a fairly simple issue, understandable through weighing up 4 issues:

1. Immediate Level of Terrorist Threat – many experts doubt Sir John Stevens’ sensationalist News of the World assertion that up to 200 Al-Qaeda terrorists are waiting to strike Britain. If that was the case, I believe that we’d have more than 11 detainees in Belmarsh (none of whom are apparently dangerous enough to hold under house arrest
anyway). We’d also have more convictions than the accomplice of the incompetent ‘shoe bomber’. We’d have more evidence of close-calls.  And since it will be near-impossible to prove Sir John wrong, his reputation isn’t on the line.

Mr Blair already has a track record of pressuring third parties into helping him to deliberately exaggerate dubious evidence to justify his preconceived notions.

2. Due Process – the Bill breaks 900 years of Habeas Corpus and the notion of innocence until proven guilty. Since police can detain anyone for 36 hours anyway, it’s inconceivable that a private court hearing could not be arranged within that time. If evidence against
the suspect must be withheld from the suspect, such measures must be deemed proportional by an objective (and hence accountable) judge.
Since evidence may well include that obtained under torture, I believe that all evidence should be brought before a judge before any control order is imposed.

3. Accountability – without any personal responsibility (ie potential loss to the judge/Home Secretary), there is nothing to stop abuse of these laws. In light of claims of needs for secrecy, it is easy to imagine control orders being imposed irresponsibly.

4. Abusability – the capacity for the laws to be used in ways not justified by the Threat. The government proposals are still extremely abusable. In addition to the dangers I mentioned in my last letter, section 1(2) of the bill states:

“A control order may impose ANY OBLIGATION on the individual against whom it is made that the Secretary of State considers necessary…”

Just imagine what Mugabe would do with such power.

Asked whether Home Secretary Charles Clarke would use the new anti-terror laws against G8 protesters, our Prime Minister said: “I couldn’t rule it out”. As somebody who’d MUCH rather be getting on with my life than pouring over the fine print of the latest draconian Bill, I am seriously concerned by this comment.

Nor does needing a judge’s signature do much to stop potential abusers.
But at least it’s a move in the right direction.

I congratulate you for voting for Amendment 4. I also hope that you voted for every single amendment returned by the House of Lords. The balance of probability amendment is especially important. It is better than ‘reasonable suspicion’ as it is unlikely that any judge could argue that the Home Secretary is unreasonably suspicious.

In regards to the Emergency Powers already granted to ministers by the Civil Contingencies Act 2004: section 2, I want to make sure you understand that even a government Party Whip could orally declare an
Emergency and “make provision of any kind that could be made by Act of Parliament or by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative.”

Did you know that Britain is now a few spoken words away from a legal dictatorship?


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