Deeply unfair system is just being given a ‘cheap make-over’ - Tim Hancock
Amnesty International has strongly criticised government plans to introduce new anti-terrorism legislation, saying they will “seriously undermine” human rights protection in the UK.
With MPs set to debate the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill tomorrow (5 September), Amnesty is warning that if made law the bill would allow the Home Secretary to order that people are subject to significant curtailments to their liberty, freedom of movement, association and privacy - all without charge or trial.
On the basis of secret evidence individuals could be tagged and forced to remain within their home under overnight curfews; have restrictions placed on the use of mobile phones, the internet or talking to named people; and prevented from working in certain jobs or travelling overseas. Failing to comply would generally be a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
The measures are similar to existing “control orders”, which have been widely-criticised, including by Amnesty. The government had previously argued that the so-called “TPIMs” measures would address the human rights concerns about control orders.
In addition, the government has very recently (last Thursday) published an extra “Enhanced” version of the TPIMs bill which would allow for the imposition of additional measures, such as restrictions on where a person can live and with whom. This could mean a person subject to these measures would be forcibly separated from their family and made to live in new location.
In an amendment tabled to the TPIMs bill at the end of last week, the Home Secretary is now proposing that the powers in the enhanced version of the bill become available at short notice without parliamentary approval if she considers it necessary when Parliament is not sitting.
Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:
“These measures will seriously undermine human rights protection in this country.
“When it came to power the coalition government claimed to be listening to human rights concerns over control orders and the TPIMs measures were supposed to be the answer. They are not.
“Giving the control orders system a cheap make-over is not the way to address basic concerns over depriving people of their liberty and freedom of movement and association.
“As with control orders, we’re talking about a gross interference with a person’s rights on the basis of a secretive process that bypasses the ordinary criminal justice system.
“Where the government reasonably suspects someone of involvement in terrorism-related activities, it should be turning to ordinary law enforcement powers and the ordinary criminal justice system, not looking for quick fixes.”
The appeals process for individuals placed under a TPIMs order is deeply flawed, said Amnesty, as it allows the government to base its allegations on secret material which the individual or their chosen lawyer are prevented from seeing. Instead, material is considered in closed session and a court-appointed “Special Advocate” is supposed to represent the interests of the accused - though they cannot communicate with them or their legal team over the accusations.
The current system of control orders - which Amnesty has vigorously opposed since it was established in 2005 - is due to conclude at the end of this year. Control order powers were originally introduced as a temporary measure and were subject to a “sunset clause”, meaning they had to be debated and renewed by Parliament every year. The government is now proposing that TPIMs powers are put in place for five years with no annual opportunity for Parliament to debate their necessity.