JCHR Press Notice 07-08 No 36

Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights (Tenth Report): Counter-Terrorism Bill

Embargo: not to be published until 07.30am Wednesday 14 May 2008


In a report released today, Wednesday 14 May 2008, ahead of the final stages of the Counter Terrorism Bill and to inform a mini-conference convened by the Committee on counter terrorism policy today, the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) proposes an alternative to extending the maximum period of pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects. The Committee is €œastonished€ that the Government has completely failed both to answer the substantial case against extension made in its earlier report on the 42 day detention proposals, and to consider the detailed alternative package of measures proposed by the Committee which would make extending the pre-charge detention period €œwholly unnecessary€. The Committee has called the mini-conference on the Counter-Terrorism Bill to discuss the human rights implications of counter terrorism policy with Government, police and civil society representatives.

The Committee says the Government has failed to answer its calls to bring forward the evidence it relies on to demonstrate that the threat from terrorism has increased in the last year. The Government has still not made its case for the need to extend pre-charge detention beyond the current limit of 28 days. Instead, the Committee says, the Government should have considered its detailed alternative proposals which both protect the public better and comply with human rights principles.

While it would not expect to see the full detail of the privileged advice given by the Law Officers, the Committee is also disappointed that the Attorney General was not even able to confirm that, in her view, the €œ42 day provisions€ comply with the UK€™s human rights obligations. The Committee considers this essential in the light of the recent revelation by the previous Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, that he would not have been able to vote in the Lords for the then 90 day max detention period proposed in 2006, had it passed the Commons.

The report recommends a series of amendments to the Counter-Terrorism Bill to give effect to its alternative proposal, including scrapping the proposed max 42 day provisions. Committee Chair Andrew Dismore MP and a number of other Committee members will be tabling these amendments during the final stages of the Bill€™s passage in the Commons.

In its reply to the Committee€™s earlier report on the Bill, the Government acknowledges the likely disproportionate impact on Muslim communities, stating €œthe problems highlighted in terrorism cases also occur in other serious offences. Communities most likely to be affected may react adversely if they perceive that terrorist cases are uniquely charged at a lower threshold€ €“ precisely, the Committee says, one of the main arguments against extending pre-charge detention.

Andrew Dismore MP, Chair of the Committee, said: €œHuman rights law itself imposes a duty on the state to protect people from terrorism. This can be done in a human rights compliant way as we have demonstrated. Not only have we found no clear evidence of a need to go beyond the current 28 day maximum in the near future, we have also demonstrated, in a series of reports, that there is now a comprehensive alternative package of measures which together protect the public, whilst also reducing the risk of alienating minority communities.

€œWe are astonished €“ and extremely disappointed €“ that the Government have failed even to consider our proposed alternative, in the meagre four paragraphs of official response we have received so far.

€œI will be tabling amendments to give effect to the Committee€™s recommendations and to enable the Commons to consider our alternative package of measures, which we believe would be more effective in protecting the public.€

Notes to editors:

1. The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) publishes its Twentieth Report of Session 2007-08 Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights (Tenth Report): Counter-Terrorism Bill on Wednesday 14 May 2008 at 7.30am as House of Lords Paper 108 and House of Commons Paper 554.

2.The Committee's previous reports on counter terrorism policy can be found at: http://www.parliament.uk/jchr

2. The Committee will hold a €œmini-conference€ on Counter Terrorism Bill with Home Office Minster Tony McNulty, Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti and others on Wednesday 14 May 2008 from 1330 to 1530pm in the Attlee Suite in Portcullis House. Members of the press are welcome to attend and film, please rsvp to Jessica Bridges Palmer (esp. to get filming permits).

The reports will be available from The Stationery Office (tel: 0870 600 5522), Parliamentary Hotline Lo-call 0845 7 023474, Email: book.orders@tso.co.uk, Internet: http://www.tso.co.uk/bookshop, TSO shops, The Parliamentary Bookshop, 12 Bridge Street, London SW1A 2JX (tel 020 7219 3890) and through good booksellers. They will also be on the Committee=s website at the address below on the day of publication.