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42 days decision 'dangerous and disappointing' says Amnesty as it vows to take fight to lords

Today's vote by UK MPs to extend yet further the maximum period of pre-charge detention for terror suspects is a dangerous and disappointing development, said Amnesty International today, as the organisation vowed to continue its campaign against 42 days as the Counter-terrorism Bill goes to the House of Lords.

Amnesty believes that extending pre-charge detention risks moving UK law even further away from fundamental principles of fairness and the protection of human rights. The supposed ‘concessions’ offered to MPs, such as parliamentary scrutiny of the decision to permit 42 days’ detention, will remain essentially meaningless, said Amnesty, since Parliament will not have any of the relevant facts in front of it when it comes to vote.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said

"This is a dangerous and disappointing decision. No government minister should have the power to allow police to lock people up for six weeks without charge.

“Amnesty will now take the fight to the Lords. These are important human rights that are being taken away and we will do all we can to protect them.

"People have a right to be charged promptly or to be released: it’s shocking that the law in the UK is moving further and further away from this basic principle.

“The idea that countering terrorism somehow requires removing or eroding basic guarantees of individual liberty and physical safety is a discredited one. The government should reject it once and for all.

"Instead of allowing people to be held for longer and longer without being charged, the government should bring counter-terrorism legislation into line with basic international standards which protect the rights of people in the UK.”

Today's vote showed that members of the House of Commons may have been persuaded by last-minute concessions by the government which were claimed to provide safeguards for the exercise of this power. These concessions, however, do not address the fundamental injustice of allowing an individual to be held for up to six weeks on the strength of mere suspicion, without being charged with any offence.

The legislation now goes to the House of Lords for their consideration. Amnesty International will be calling on the Lords to reject this proposal and to give very careful scrutiny to some other worrying aspects of the Counter-Terrorism Bill.

This afternoon the House of Commons supported proposals to give a government minister the power to extend from 28 to 42 days the already very long period for which people suspected of involvement in terrorism can be detained by the police in the UK without being charged with any offence.

Despite the concessions proposed by the government at a late stage in the debate,
judicial scrutiny of applications to keep someone locked up past 28 days will suffer from the same basic unfairness affecting applications under the existing system: prosecutors will only have to persuade a judge that there are reasonable grounds for believing that further detention is 'necessary' for the purposes of the investigation, and that the investigation is being carried out reasonably promptly. There will be no need to show that there are any reasonable grounds to believe that the person in detention has, in fact, committed any criminal offence.

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