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Friday, December 17, 2004

Blunkett's legacy

"It calls into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country has until now been very proud: freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention."

"This is a nation which has been tested in adversity, which has survived physical destruction and catastrophic loss of life. I do not underestimate the ability of fanatical groups to kill or destroy, but they do not threaten the life of the nation."

"Whether we should survive Hitler hung in the balance, but there is no doubt we shall survive al-Qaida. The Spanish people have not said that what happened in Madrid, hideous crime as it was, threatened the life of the nation. Their legendary pride would not allow it."

"Terrorist crime, serious as it is, does not threaten our institutions of government or our existence as a
civil community."

The ink is barely dry on the exchange of letters and David Blunkett's legacy has come back to bite the Government already. There has been much discussion on this site about New Labour's quasi-racist attitudes so it should not have come as a surprise to find that seven senior judges state that this legislation discriminated against foreign nationals because there are no similar powers to lock up British nationals. Indeed the government has now admitted that such a power would be difficult to justify. A law that discriminates against some ethnic communities and not others is indefensible.

It is a telling indictment that this scathing law lords judgment condemning the indefinite detention of foreign terror suspects as a threat to the life of the nation has left anti-terrorist laws in tatters. And yet the Guardian reports that "24 hours after David Blunkett, the law's sponsor, was forced to resign as home secretary, Downing St and the new home secretary, Charles Clarke decided to tough it out. They would study the judgment - but made it plain they are more likely to renew the controversial laws than modify them."

Opposing these laws in their current form is not being soft on terrorism it is about ensuring that terrorists do not win the argument by forcing us to subvert our democracy, the rule of law and the liberties that we have cherished for centuries. We have willingly signed up to a convention that guarantees human rights. That was not an act of a previous government but of this one, the same one who then sought to undermine the treaty it had signed. New Labour cannot have it both ways.

The Law Lords are quite clear as to how these laws need to be amended so as to bring them back within human rights' law. They do not have to be scapped completely, but made more transparent, less inherently racist and open to scrutiny. That leaves in place a framework that can be used effectively to combat terrorism. If they defy this judgement then the Government is handing victory to Osama Bin Laden on a plate.

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