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Part 4 of our commentary on Gordon Brown's speech to Chatham House

The fourth part of our commentary on Gordon Brown's
Speech by the Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, on "Meeting the terrorist challenge" given to Chatham House, 10 October 2006

More than "28 days detention without charge was mentioned, with no evidence that this is necessary - even the complicated "no binary liquid explosives on traransatlantic flights" plot arrests in August does not provide evidence that even more time is needed to bring charges. If the first charge gets you convicted to life imprisonment, what is the point of further multiple life sentences, for attacks which have not actually been carried out ?

Pre-charge detention

Our comprehensive spending review will also examine the resources and support we give to the police, security and intelligence services in the fight against terrorism. And, as we examine the resources available to services upon whom we rely we, as a Government, must be clear also about what, in the new environment, are the powers they need.

This is what every Government has done, since time immemorial, it does not imply some NuInitiative on the part of Gordon Brown.

Back in February, I argued that those who opposed increasing the maximum length of pre-charge detention, were mistaken. I explained why I thought an extension was justified.

Gordon Brown failed to make any convincing case for the existing "pre-charge detention" scheme, let alone "90 days", during his speech in February to the Royal United Services Institute

We need to be realistic that the new terrorist threat - multi-continental in its reach, multi-dimensional in its operation - has changed the rules of the game - and so changed how we need to protect ourselves against it.

Today, we face terrorists who act without warning, who can take the lives of thousands in one act - and who are willing not only to take the lives of others, but their own as well. So we cannot now risk waiting for someone to commit an act. Indeed it would be a failure of our duty to protect people to do so.

In the past we could think of catching culprits 'red handed', in the act of criminality. Today the authorities have to consider whether we can afford to let events move near to that conclusion.

There have been be no recent cases of any "red handed" arrests and prosecutions, whatsoever.

Either the security agencies have been nowhere near an active plot, or they have arrested people who have no money, explosives or toxins or any viable information on how to make sufficent quantities of them to be dangerous.

That is why preventative control orders - to prevent, restrict or disrupt involvement in terrorist activity - are a necessary part of our approach and the debate about their future is so important.

The police and security service do have a duty to take preventative action and may have to intervene early.

Rubbish ! By "intervening early", simply to "disrupt" a low level plot, by first time amateur terrorist plotters, you destroy any chance of catching any professional, experienced terrorists who they might be in contact with.

This smacks of Must Pretend To Be Seen To Be Doing Something politics.

We do not want terrorist plots to be "disrupted", so that the prime movers and any money, explosives or weapons etc. are not captured, to try again later.

We do not want Northern Ireland style "ooh look we have captured an arms cache" as a result of of Covert Human Informants or Agent Provocateurs malarky either.

We do not want to see resources wasted on fake "sting operations" to buy or supply weapons such as Igla shoulder launched surface to air missiles, or imaginary substances like "Red Mercury", where both the "buyers" and the "sellers" are in fact Government agents or agents provocateurs.

And this carries with it serious implications for arrests, charging and detaining.

But we also have global operations involving the internet, mobile telephones, false identities and bank accounts of a complexity and sophistication we have not seen before - with the result that investigations also are more complex, depend on more international co-operation and inevitably take longer.

I myself first came across this as a Treasury Minister addressing the issuing of banning orders for financial transactions of terrorists where we were dealing with a sophisticated use by a single individual of many identities many passports and many bank accounts and transfer usually in many countries and over more than one continent. But the police investigation of potential terrorist activity is even more complex than that.

When I spoke about this in February I used the example of the investigation into the July 7th bombings - where the race against time involved access to sites which could not be entered safely for days or even weeks, hundreds of computer encryptions which had to be deciphered, and thousands of phone and email trails which needed to be pursued across countries and continents.

"hundreds of computer encryptions which had to be deciphered"

Is Gordon Brown revealing that the July the 7th bombers were actually using encryption ?

That has not been admitted before, so we are very skeptical about this claim.

Neither computer encryption, nor mobile phones were a justification for even 28 days "Pre-charge detention", let alone 90 days. Either encryption is easy to break, or almost impossible, there is no practical middle ground, which would yield information which might thwart any "imminent danger" posed by as yet undetected co-conspirators.

See Computer Encryption and Mobile Phone evidence and the alleged justification for 90 days Detention Without Charge - Home Affairs Select Committee Oral Evidence 14th February 2006

The same applies to the alleged August 10th plot. So far nearly 70 homes, business and open spaces have been searched. As the Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Peter Clark, said, as well as bomb making equipment, 200 mobile phones, 400 computers, and a total of 8,000 CDs, DVDs and computer disks, containing 6,000 gigabytes of data have been seized . Given that much of the data has to be searched internationally as well as nationally - and yet the police have to intervene early before the terrorist act - it is obvious that police investigations often need more time.

We have in place a new regime which allows pre-charge detention up to 28 days. But I believe that if the evidence shows it necessary to go beyond 28 days we should be prepared to do so.

That case and those figures are irrelevant in trying to make a case for "90 days" detention without charge !

The fact that all of the suspects who were not freed without charge, are facing the most serious possible charges, i.e. "conspiracy to murder" and "acts preparatory to terrorism", both of which carry a possible life sentence in prison, implies that the current 28 days is more than adequate.

If the first charge gets you convicted and imprisoned for life, then what is the point of further multiple life sentences, for attacks which have not actually been carried out, which have not resulted in any casualties ?

There is no deterent effect in such sentences for fanatics, with a misguided martydom complex, anyway.

The concern all of us have is of course the possibility of arbitrary detention - and so procedures have to be put in place to avoid that.

What new measures exactly is Gordon Brown proposing ?

But the safeguards lie not in measures that make it impossible for police to complete an investigation into terrorist activities - something which would not protect but harm all our civil liberties - but in ensuring that the rights of a person detained are protected through drawing upon our traditions of impartial judicial oversight and Parliamentary accountability.

It is right that a judge cannot agree an extension beyond 14 days unless he is satisfied that continued detention is necessary, and unless he is also satisfied that the investigation is being carried out as quickly as possible.

At the heart of our legislation is also the requirement that those detained must be able to make written representations to the judge to contest their continued detention. If the judge is not satisfied at any stage of the process, the person must be released.

In other words, no new safeguards are being proposed by Gordon Brown, at all.

I believe that in any subsequent legislation, Parliament should reassure itself that this oversight is working and improve it if necessary, and to ensure even greater accountability, there be a right of appeal to the High Court.

But it is, in my view, right also that, if we did go beyond 28 days, we give the independent reviewer of terrorism law the explicit power to look at and to report on any case which goes beyond 28 days without charges.

Of course, the independent reviewer of our terrorism legislation already has the overall capacity to monitor the use of this power and report any concerns. But I believe our traditions of Parliamentary accountability would be enhanced if this work of monitoring also forms the basis of an annual report to Parliament: a report that as - John Reid and I have agreed and as he will examine in his security review - scrutinises each of the cases where there has been the longest detentions and the explanations for this, and a report that can be fully debated within Parliament to reassure people that there has been no arbitrary exercise of power.

An annual Report to Parliament is absolutely no reassurance whatsoever.

Will Gordon Brown or John Reid or any ot their junior Ministers resign if such a Report highlights a miscarriage of justice or incompetence ? If not, then it is worthless.

Where is the requirement for a Public Apology and Substantial Financial Compensation for the Innocent people who get caught up in the anti-terrorism bureaucracy ?

Where is the Prompt Support and Generous Financial Compensation for victims of terrorist crimes and their families ?

Where is the financial compensation to businesses and individuals, caused by the "security theatre" of alleged security measures at airports etc. ?

If Gordon Brown is unwilling to finance thiese then he is not doing everything in his power to combat the effects of terrorism, as he claims.

How we protect people’s liberty has to change to meet new security needs, but the protection of people's liberty must be enhanced too. It will lie in strengthened Parliamentary accountability and independent oversight of the authorities.

It should be independent Judical oversight, with the power to imprison petty bureaucrats and politicians who over zealously exceed the responsible exercise of the massive powers that anti-terrorism legislation bestows on them.

As a government, we would like an all-party consensus on the way forward and will continue to seek it. It is difficult for opponents to say that the changed terrorist threat is not serious enough to justify change in our laws.

There is no justification for even more anti-terrorist legislation ! Any future legislation should simplify the current hodge potch , and reduce the number of Clauses and Offences on the Statute Book.

There is so much "Must Be Seen To Be Doing Something" anti-terrorism and national security legislation, with such unlimited powers, that even official Police press releases, regularly get confused about exactly which bit of legislation they are using.

To have to minimise the severity of the changes in the world around us to justify the status quo is a disappointing failure of leadership. By preserving the primacy of the courts backed up by rights of appeal and thus proper oversight and, in the end, by upholding Parliamentary accountability, I believe we protect our civil liberties while acting decisively in the security interests of the country.

Having to rely on the hugely expensive and slow High Court Appeals is not proper Justice.

Simlpy being arrested under anti-terrorism legislation, is enough to destroy your life, even if you are never charged.

The Government's contempt for the legal system, is such, that even if you are found Not Guilty, you can still be placed under "house arrest", without any chance to challenge any faulty "secret intelligence", which is not presented as real, cross examinable evidence against you.

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