90 days detention still on Blair's agenda

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, has expressed his continuing support for a 90 day holding period for terror suspects.

Despite the concern expressed by the head of MI5 and the demands from the Metropolitan Police for more powers, there was no mention of new anti-terror legislation in the Queen’s Speech.

Yet the Prime Minister still wants to extend the present period for which police can hold a suspect from 28 days to 90 days. Blair stated that he believed that the evidence supported the longer period, and said that proposals would be based on an analysis of recent experience and that legislation could be brought in before Christmas if it was thought necessary.

Gordon Brown has said that he, too, would support an extension to 90 days were an analysis to show that it was required.

Lord Carlile, responsible for overseeing terrorist legislation, said he expected new laws to be proposed in the new year, but, if an extension of the period of detention without charge was proposed, it would have to be backed with evidence of the need for it, as the Home Secretary had promised.

Shami Chakrabarti, head of Liberty, the human rights charity, said: "Ninety days is internment - our nightmare but a terrorist recruiter's dream”. She deplored the absence of proposals to use intercept evidence and other means in the pursuit of terrorists.

Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, said that although the extension from 14 to 28 days was justified by experience, he was unaware of any evidence that would support the extension to 90 days.

The Metropolitan Police had wanted the law to be changed so that interrogation could continue after charges had been made. Lord Goldsmith said of this that there would have to be safeguards to protect prisoners from being bullied by police interrogators, but it might provide an alternative to the extension to 90 days detention period.

Although the Attorney General had, in September, agreed that the admission of intercept evidence in court would be an “important tool in the fight against terrorism”, Home Secretary, John Reid, had rejected the proposal because he had seen no evidence to support its use. The Attorney General now says that ways are being sought to enable phone tapping evidence to be admitted in court without revealing how and where it had been obtained.

Downing Steet refused to comment on Lord Goldsmith's statement.

The Conservative shadow home secretary, David Davis, welcomed Lord Goldsmith’s statement about the 90 day period and said that this justified the stance taken by opponents of the Bill that had resulted in the rejection of the 90 day proposal and the acceptance of 28 days as the maximum period of detention without charge.

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