Opposition growing to house arrest proposals

It seems that opposition to Charles Clarke’s proposals to impose house arrests on suspected terrorists without trial is growing. Firstly, there was George Churchill-Coleman’s comments to the Guardian claiming that the proposals were impractical and he feared that Britain was “sinking into a police state”.

Then, both the Tories and Liberal Democrats are reported to be opposed to the measures:

“Controversial government plans to keep terror suspects under house arrest rather than in jail could falter in parliament and fail to become law.

The Conservatives declared on Wednesday they would oppose the new scheme, hastily drawn up after the highest court ruled that imprisoning foreign suspects without trial broke human rights law.

With the Liberal Democrats also against, and many in the Labour party uneasy, the legislative battle could be bloody.”

However Michael Howard, the Tory leader has agreed to meet with Blair to discuss the proposals:

“Mr Howard argued that it was wrong in principle for anyone to be deprived of their liberty “on the say-so of a politician” and argued that those accused of terrorist offences should be brought to trial and detained in prison in the meantime.

Mr Howard went on to ask Mr Blair to meet him “to see if we can agree on a way forward which will command a wide degree of public confidence on these vitally important issues”.

Acknowledging the civil liberties implications of the Government’s plans, Mr Blair said he would be “perfectly happy” to meet Mr Howard to see whether it was possible to find a common way forward on dealing with terror suspects who cannot be brought to trial.”

I suspect a stitch up job here, which will result in measures only slightly less fascist than these proposals being agreed to.

But then yet more opposition has appeared, with the head of the Metropolitican Police, Sir Ian Blair coming out in favour of using intercept evidence in court as an alternative:

Perhaps more importantly Sir Ian also disagrees with the Government about the best way of dealing with suspected terrorists. Although Charles Clarke is proposing to detain suspects in their own homes without trial, the Commissioner believes that it would be better to allow intercept evidence to be used in court so that they can be tried.

“I have long been in favour of intercept evidence being used in court,” he says. “In policing terms, it would make my job much easier. The simple reason why it would be better is that if we’ve got this, we can put it in front of a court and the court can weigh it up. At the moment, nobody can test it.”

His concern with the proposals for house arrest is that Muslims will feel alienated from the police if they see officers searching everybody who goes into a suspected terrorist’s house.

“The community will say to us, ‘What are you doing with these people, why have you got these people under all of this, why don’t you just tell us what it is you’ve got?’ That’s my position but, of course, there’s a legitimate argument on the other side.”

He is using diplomatic language, and I’m not sure there really is a legitimate argument on other side (save in the most extreme circumstances, but we’re not facing those), but it is clear he’s at odds with the government on this. It is worth noting that the civil liberties group “Liberty” has also come out in favour of accepting intercept evidence in court:

Backing Sir Ian’s stance, Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said: “Judges rather than politicians should decide when to authorise phone tapping.

“However, if it is legitimate to eavesdrop on someone’s private phone calls, it is nonsensical not to use relevant material in a criminal trial.”

It really is strange that Britain and Ireland alone in Europe do not allow intercept evidence in court. The US does it, France does it, Israel does it, Canada does it. Their security agencies seem to be able to cope why not ours?

And isn’t worth trying measures that will help bring people to trial rather than dispensing with a trial altogether, at a serious risk to individual liberty?

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