UK: A shadow criminal justice system is unacceptable

'The proposed 'emergency' legislation, which allows for indefinite detention without charge or trial, will create a shadow criminal justice system without the safeguards of the formal system. Anyone deemed to be 'an international terrorist and threat to national security' could be imprisoned on the basis of evidence inadmissible in a trial, and on a significantly lower standard of proof than is applied in criminal trials. Innocent people would be at risk of violations of their human rights.'

'While national security may be a top priority, measures should be taken which do not infringe human rights. Consistent with these principles, UK laws should be tightened where necessary in order to allow the prosecution and trials of people suspected of human rights abuses.'

Whether there is a public emergency in the UK threatening the life of the nation is an open question. When the Secretary of State announced the proposal for the legislation in October, he said that '[t]here is no immediate intelligence pointing to a specific threat to the United Kingdom...'.

It is a violation of fundamental human rights to detain people on grounds of national security, who the authorities do not intend to prosecute and who cannot be deported. Anyone so detained should be charged promptly with a recognisable criminal offence and tried within a reasonable period.

Amnesty International is concerned about the government's proposal that people will be categorised as a 'national security risk and international terrorist' on the basis of the Secretary of State's beliefs or suspicions. The criteria for such beliefs or suspicions are not given in the Bill and the basis for the beliefs and suspicions will be secret. Anyone so categorised will then have their case heard in a closed hearing, some of which may take place in the absence of the person concerned and without full disclosure of the evidence to them. Everyone should have the right to defend themselves against serious allegations in a court of law in full and fair proceedings.

Under the Bill, asylum-seekers, who have been labelled as 'suspected international terrorists', will be denied an individual assessment on the merits of their claim. Amnesty International believes no one should be forcibly removed without their individual need for protection assessed in a full and satisfactory procedure.

Amnesty International is also concerned about the UK's derogation from Article 5(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The organisation is not aware of any other European government contemplating derogation from its international human rights treaty obligations in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Background

The government published the 'Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill' on 13 November 2001 and hopes to enact it by the end of the year.

UK emergency legislation has been of grave concern to Amnesty International since the 1980s. The organisation has documented throughout the years how provisions of such temporary legislation facilitated serious abuse of human rights, including torture and unfair trials.

To read Amnesty International's new report, 'UK: Creating a shadow criminal justice system in the name of 'fighting international terrorism'' (AI Index EUR 45/019/2001) please visit www.amnesty.org

To find out Amnesty International UK's concerns regarding the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill please read: Amnesty International's Briefing for 2nd reading of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill – 19 November 2001 /p>

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