Amnesty's head's 'watershed' 42 days plea to backbench MPs: 'Defend the values that underpin civil liberties in this country'

Backbench MPs have received an impassioned plea from Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen ahead of today’s debate on plans to extend pre-charge detention limits to 42 days in terrorism cases.

Describing the vote as “A watershed moment for human rights in the UK,” Kate Allen urges MPs to oppose any further extension of pre-charge detention. By doing so, MPs “have an opportunity this week to defend the values that underpin civil liberties in this country.” The letter has been sent to potential rebel MPs whose votes will be pivotal to whether the Counter-terrorism Bill becomes law. It concludes:

“I urge you to stand in support of principles that lie at the heart of our society, principles such as justice and liberty.

“The alternative is to succumb to the climate of fear that terrorists seek to breed among us.

“I urge you to oppose any further extension of pre-charge detention.”

Kate Allen states that the proposal to extend pre-charge detention “flies in the face of principles of justice” and argues that she is “not reassured by the Government’s recent ‘concessions’.” Amnesty believes that the Bill still lacks proper judicial safeguards and that parliamentary scrutiny will be meaningless because of the risk of prejudicing future trials. There is also serious concern that the definition of the “grave and exceptional threat”, that would trigger the Home Secretary’s decision to seek extended pre-charge detention, is too broad.

Amnesty accepts that the government has a duty to protect the public but argues strongly that this should only be done in a way that respects their rights. Allen’s letter argues:

“All states have an obligation to act to protect people from terrorism. The perpetrators of terrorist attacks must be brought to justice. But unless governments respond to the threat of international terrorism with measures that are fully grounded in respect for human rights, they risk undermining the values they seek to protect and defend.”

Amnesty International members have been campaigning against extending pre-charge detention limits since the idea was first proposed. Over 7,000 people have signed its ‘Not a Day Longer’ petition at the Number Ten website http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/notadaylonger

ENDS

Notes to editors

Full text of the letter is as follows:

This week, you will have a chance to debate and vote on the Counter Terrorism Bill. The vote will be a watershed moment for human rights in the UK.

The Bill would increase pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects to 42 days. If this proposal goes ahead, people could be held for six weeks without knowing anything about the reason for their detention. This flies in the face of justice.

Prolonged detention without charge or trial undermines fair trial rights protected by international human rights law. Everybody who is arrested is entitled to be charged promptly and tried within a reasonable time, or to be released.

I am not reassured by the Government’s recent ‘concessions’.

- The Home Secretary will now have to be satisfied that there is a “grave and exceptional terrorist threat” before authorising an extension. This definition is sweepingly broad.

- Parliament will debate and vote on the extension earlier than previously. However, this debate would be meaningless because of the risk of prejudicing future trials.

- Finally, the Bill makes no provision for proper judicial safeguards.

I understand the complexity of counter-terrorism operations and the threat that we face from international terrorism. The horrific terrorist attacks of recent years, including in our own capital, were barbaric acts and gross human rights violations. All states have an obligation to act to protect people from terrorism. The perpetrators of terrorist attacks must be brought to justice.

However, unless governments respond to the threat of international terrorism with measures that are fully grounded in respect for human rights, they risk undermining the values they seek to protect and defend.

You have an opportunity this week to defend the values that underpin civil liberties in this country. I urge you to stand in support of principles that lie at the heart of our society, principles such as justice and liberty. The alternative is to succumb to the climate of fear that terrorists seek to breed among us.

I urge you to oppose any further extension of pre-charge detention.

View latest press releases