As always, the BBC remains an excellent source of the worrying statements made by politicians, reporting:
“The time is now right” to reconsider extending detention without charge beyond the current 28 days limit, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said.
The article continues to discuss how she feels that the complexity of modern terrorist plots means the police need longer than 28 days to detain and question a suspect before they charge him or her. Worryingly, this seems to be garnering general public support and it has all the hall marks of the “reasonable” sounding claims I detest with a passion.
On the face of it, detaining terrorists for indefinite periods of time seems like a good idea – it is one of those things which make it difficult for people to argue against, I mean who wants to support terrorists? The same argument is used over a variety of crimes and it is almost always false.
Basically, the problem is that these are innocent people. The bedrock of western laws is that a person’s liberty can only be taken away from them under certain situations. Most of the time, the only way for this to happen is after a court of law finds the person guilty of certain offences. The primary exception to this is people who are charged with a grave offence and may prove to be a flight risk or a continued threat to the public, at which point they may be refused bail.
The current terror legislation (in that it is a law based on terror, rather than the principles of law or good governance) allows some one to be detained by the police for 28 days without any form of charge, nor is a formal charge required when the 28 day period runs out. It is unique in this respect, I can not for one second imagine someone being detained for 28 days while they were being investigated for vandalism…
In a nutshell, this means that someone without being charged of any crime can have their liberty taken away from them for a month. I am sure the police forces of the UK are (currently) professional enough to have some standard of evidence required before they enact this detention, but the fact remains this is something wide open to abuse. It takes no stretch of the imagination to see how this can be misused – especially as there is no censure, nor public oversight, over the police actions. They are not punished if they detain some one wrongly (accidentally or deliberately) and the innocent person wrongly imprisoned receives no restitution for their suffering.
Is this the way people envisage a western democracy treating its citizens?
The terrorists, who want to destroy what they see as a decadent society, seem to be winning and we are slowly becoming a police state in the manner of the Middle Eastern dictatorships we used to condemn.
As always, the irrational fear of terrorists seems to cloud people’s reasoning when it comes to detaining them – the old refrain about the public’s “right to life” being more important than the suspect’s “right to liberty” is the most common. It is also complete nonsense and draws an ad absurdum over itself like a cloak. The fear of a terrorist killing lots of people is used as the argument behind excessive pre-charge detention, however Harold Shipman killed more people than any terrorist in the UK and we do not detain Doctors for 28 days without charge on the off-chance they may be mass murderers.
Sadly, the main victims of this legislation are minority groups so the will of the masses overwhelms any complaints they may make. Oddly (although not odd for anyone who has thought about this rationally), the main effect of this legislation will be to further alienate and isolate a vulnerable group of people. The extremist rabble-rousers must be overjoyed at the thought of disgruntled Islamic youths who feel like the state is oppressing them unjustly.
As well as the potential deaths a terrorist could cause, another “reason” often cited for excessive detention is “the complexity” of a terrorist investigation. This is reasonable and actually has my full support, although I think that if the Home Secretary agrees that complex investigations should allow the police to detain suspects for long periods before charge, this should be applied across the board.
Complex criminal investigations are widespread in the modern society we live in. With the exception of terrorism the suspect remain free until a charge can be made though – some recent examples are footballers suspected of fraud, the Members of Parliament suspected in the “Cash for Honours” fiasco, companies suspected of financial crimes and the like. In not one of these cases was a suspect detained (without charge) for more than 24 hours – even though the investigations lasted months or years. Obviously the police are more than able to investigate people who are not sitting in the cells – even very rich people (all of the above) who are a real flight risk.
Ah, I hear the right wing cry out that these are “fraud” cases where no one will die as a result. Ok, that seems reasonable – although if someone loses their lives savings thanks to financial fraud and is left penniless at the age of 60, I suspect they will die a lot sooner than if they had their money. What about complex cases involving health and safety legislation or corporate manslaughter? What about the cases of human traffickers (or any organised crime)? There is a multitude of incredibly complex cases, in which the investigations last years, where the police are not allowed to detain a suspect without charge for 28 days (or more).
What makes a terrorism suspect any different from a CEO who’s corporate negligence has allowed 50 people to die?
As a parting shot, I will return to the BBC’s article and Miss Smith’s comments:
In recent operations … six people were held for 27-28 days and three of those were charged.
A fifty percent success rate does not fill me with confidence.
[tags]Terror, Terrorism, Law, Legislation, Jacqui Smith, UK, Civil Rights, News, Fear, Civil Liberties, Society, Culture, Police, Arrests, Islam, Minorities, Crime, Home Secretary, BBC, Corporate Crime, Logical Fallacy, Ad Absurdum, Reductio Ad Absurdum, Logical Fallacies[/tags]