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Terror detention laws to be reviewed

BBC | June 7, 2007 

Home Secretary John Reid has outlined proposals to toughen counter terror laws - including reviewing the 28-day limit on pre-charge detention.
He said he wanted cross-party agreement on the measures, which also include a law change to allow terrorist suspects to be questioned after being charged.

Plans also include a sex offender-style terrorist register, and a review into courts using intercept evidence.

But MPs were told "stop and question" powers were not among current plans.

The measures are in a consultation document rather than a draft bill as Mr Reid has said he wants cross-party support before announcing more concrete measures in a counter-terrorism bill later this year.

He said he, Prime Minister Tony Blair and the next prime minister Gordon Brown all believed that 28-day detention in terrorist cases was not enough.

He did not say whether there would be a fresh attempt to extend the limit as far as 90 days, which was the issue that led to Mr Blair's first Commons defeat as prime minister.

But he said action was needed given that suspects had "unconstrained intent... to murder people in their thousands, or potentially, millions".

"One way might be to legislate now to extend the current limit but to make it clear that there would be extra further judicial and Parliamentary oversight if such measures were ever implemented."

He said he would encourage opposition parties to contribute further ideas and said police, civil liberty groups, the judiciary and community groups would also be consulted.

Moves scuppered

The government's independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, Lib Dem peer Lord Carlile, reiterated his support for extending detention without charge beyond 28 days.

He said there may be cases "in which the need to protect evidence, to discover what the evidence is, to de-encrypt computers, to find people may not be achieved within 28 days".

Mr Reid has blamed the courts and opposition parties for opposing previous attempts to introduce "tougher" anti-terrorism laws.

But Conservative Party chairman Francis Maude later told BBC One's Question Time that opposition to extending the 28-day limit was not about party politics

"If there's a compelling case that can be presented... then no reasonable politicians are going to resist that on purely dogmatic grounds," he added.

But he said he did not believe the case had not been made to extend the limit, and that it might not be necessary if phone tap evidence and post-charge questioning of suspects were allowed.

'Astonishing revelation'

Mr Reid, who will step down as home secretary in less than three weeks when Mr Blair leaves Downing Street, came under fire last month over terror suspects absconding when under control orders.

He told MPs he was now proposing new measures to toughen control orders relating to fingerprinting, DNA and police powers of entry.

But he was criticised after it emerged that police do not take fingerprints or DNA samples from suspects on control orders.

For the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg said: "This astonishing revelation merely underlines the profound flaws in the whole control order regime."

Mr Reid also appeared to talk down the possibility of opting out of parts of European human rights laws, favouring instead an overall rethink of them.

And he announced that a committee of privy counsellors would review the ban on using telephone intercept evidence in court, but he said he had not been persuaded that it should be allowed.

A proposal to enter the data sharing powers of the security services into legislation, in order to "remove barriers" to individuals and organisations sharing information with them, was also announced.

On stop and question powers for police, Mr Reid prompted laughter from opposition MPs who have read of ministerial opposition to the plan, when he said it was subject to further internal government consultation.

'Ancient rights'

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said the Conservatives supported some of the proposals, but opposed extending the 28-day limit, which he said was already a "draconian" measure.

"Our priority must be to prosecute and convict terrorists, nothing less," he said.

"It is the only way a liberal democracy can ensure terrorists remain locked up until they no longer threaten public safety. It does not require this House to undermine the ancient rights that millions died defending."

Mr Clegg added that his party would co-operate with the other parties, but "not at any cost".

He insisted that maintaining a balance between "customary British liberties" and the new measures was essential and said he would not back an extension of the 28-day detention period.

"TerrorStorm is something that should be seen by everyone, no matter what their stance/affiliation/political bent. " - Rich Rosell, Digitally Obsessed UK
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