Government proposals for contingency bills to increase the number of days that terrorist suspects may be detained before being charged are unsatisfactory and unreliable, says a Joint Committee of Peers and MPs today. Lord Armstong of Ilminster, the Chairman of the committee, has recorded a podcast to accompany the release of the report
The Joint Committee scrutinised the Home Office's draft Detention of Terrorist Suspects (Temporary Extension) Bills, which could be enacted urgently if it ever became necessary to extend to 28 days the maximum period for which the police could apply to a High Court judge detain terrorist suspects before charging them.
The committee agrees with the Government's objective, but does not accept the Government's proposals for achieving the objective. When provisions of this kind needed to be introduced after individuals had been arrested; it would be almost impossible to give Parliament the information it would need to scrutinise the legislation adequately without putting at risk a suspect's right to have a fair trial. In addition there is a risk that, if the provision was required in a period of parliamentary recess or dissolution, legislation could not be introduced in time, or at all.
Having concluded that the Government's proposals would be unsatisfactory and unreliable the committee considered alternative ways of meeting the objective. It recommends the introduction of legislation to empower the Secretary of State to make an executive order (with the agreement of the Attorney General and subject to rigorous safeguards), that would temporarily extend the maximum period available for pre-charge detention to 28 days. There would have to be an independent review of the case for making such an order. The Director of Public Prosecutions would continue to be responsible for applications to a High Court judge in individual cases. The Secretary of State would be accountable to Parliament for the decision once there was no longer any risk of prejudicing judicial proceedings.
The other idea considered was legislation to enable the Director of Public Prosecutions, with the agreement of the Attorney General, to decide that circumstances are sufficiently exceptional to justify applications to a High Court judge for extensions of pre-charge detention to up to 28 days. This would be simpler; but the committee considers that such a serious decision should be the responsibility, if not of Parliament, of someone directly accountable to Parliament.
Commenting on the report, the committee' Chairman, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, said:
"We looked at the Government's draft bills very carefully, taking evidence from a wide range of witnesses. We agreed that a maximum period of 14 days detention without charge should be the general rule, to be extended only in highly exceptional circumstances for the purpose of completing investigations. We agreed on the need for contingency measures to put such extensions into effect, but we concluded that the Government's Bills would not be a satisfactory or reliable way of achieving this. We think that the Government should give very serious thought to the course we have recommended as they consider how to tackle this important issue."