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Northern Ireland: Amnesty rejects pre-charge detention plans

No extension to pre-charge detention limits for terrorism suspects is acceptable, said Amnesty today (6 December) as the organisation reacted to Home Office proposals to raise the limit to 42 days.

Amnesty International's Northern Ireland Programme Director Patrick Corrigan said:

“Granting the power to detain suspects for 42 days without charge would be a colossal mistake.

“Almost everyone outside the Government front bench agrees that this sort of measure is simply not necessary. By robbing people of their basic rights, the Government risks alienating the public from the rule of law. That happened in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and could now happen across the UK, particularly among the Muslim community."

Amnesty recently published a briefing outlining ten arguments against extending pre-charge detention.

UK: Ten good reasons why extending pre-charge detention is a bad idea:

1. UNDERMINES one of our most basic rights, enshrined in UK law as far back as Magna Carta and now at the heart of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which UK is a signatory: the right for anyone who is detained by the state to be told promptly why they are being held and what they are charged with.

2. COMMUNITY relations will suffer if the Muslim community appears to be particularly targeted for prolonged pre-charge detention. This could have an impact on intelligence gathering and policing, and could undermine positive efforts to engage with Muslims in the UK.

3. IMPACT on any individuals detained for such a long time – in terms of their job, family, house, friendships and relationships within their community – would be devastating.

4. QUESTIONED widely by experts – Lord Goldsmith (former Attorney General), Stella Rimington (former MI5 Chief), Sir Ken Macdonald (Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service) and parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.

5. UNDERMINES presumption of innocence –Two months in prison is roughly equivalent to the length of time someone might serve in prison for assault. Lengthy pre-charge detention would impose what is in effect a ‘sentence’ of two months on somebody who may never be charged with any crime.

6. UK ALREADY has by far the longest pre-charge detention period for offences related to terrorism of any common law state.

7. INTERNATIONAL STANDING – it is much harder for the UK to criticise the human rights records of other countries that lock people up without charge when we are doing so at home. This measure would give other countries a ‘green light’ to curtail civil liberties.

8. HISTORY – from Northern Ireland and Amnesty’s experience all over the world - shows that locking people up without charge doesn’t work.

9. STATEMENTS obtained from suspects could be deemed inadmissible at trial if detention conditions are considered to be unduly harsh.

10. SAFEGUARDS discussed are insufficient – the kind of judicial oversight proposed is in no way the same as charging someone and giving them the chance to defend themselves in a fair trial.

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