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Sunday, January 30, 2005

A call to arms

Simon Titley points us towards these words:

"Now the Blair government proposes the law system of fascism and communism.

The citizen can be arrested and held without charge or trial, not even on the careful consideration of an experienced judge, but the whim of a political activist called a government minister.

To be protected from terror the government says, we must become a tyranny. But a tyranny is based on the citizen's terror. This is not victory; this is defeat before a shot is fired."

But, no, these are not the words of a Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson, but of Frederick Forsyth. Whilst the Observer says:

Internment without trial harms the incarcerated, taints the free and delivers victory to agents of turmoil. Home Secretaries are fond of saying that parliament, not judges, makes the law. It will be for parliament to halt a measure that would storm the narrow borderline where democracy stops and tyranny begins.

And the Sunday Times says:

OF THE draconian measures unveiled by the Home Secretary in the name of national security, none casts the shadow of a police state more ominously than the newly brandished weapon of house arrest. The practice of shuttering suspects and enemies in their own homes has a long and dishonourable history: it is usually the last resort of a regime without the evidence or stomach for a trial. House arrest not only breaches the European Convention on Human Rights, but is also impractical, often counter-productive and historically naive. The very term is itself freighted with connotations of overweening state control.

What we get from the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson however is a masterly piece of fence-sitting:

"We still believe that prosecution is the best way forward and are disappointed that the Home Secretary has not put in place measures to make phone tapping admissible as it could help bring cases to court in the future.

"As we examine these proposals in the week ahead the Liberal Democrats will ensure there is a balance to protect civil liberties with a proportionate response to the security problems we face."

And, again courtesy of Simon Titley:

"What I'm indicating is that there may be a way in which we can redress that balance with this new Home Secretary but obviously there's a range of control orders that he's suggesting. Now there may be some of those which do not require a derogation [from the EU human rights convention], which we can live with. There may be other of those control orders, such as house detention, which if they do require a derogation we would have serious concerns about."

If any issue required a clear Liberal steer then this is it. This is an opportunity once more for the Liberal Democrats to stand at the head of those concerned about our drift into totalitarianism and to speak out on behalf of people's liberties. It is also our duty to point out the ineffectiveness of these measures as a weapon against terrorism. It is time for Mark Oaten and Charles Kennedy to assume that position publicly and loudly.

Update: Mark Oaten has now issued a statement to the effect that the Home Secretary's present proposals are wholly unacceptable and we would seek to vote them down. Our preferred approach would be to allow the use of intercept communications and to bring the cases to court. We would allow security-cleared judges to prepare sensitive cases, and consider new processes of jury selection to guarantee that security concerns were met. We would consider limited control orders in certain circumstances, but only issued by judges on the basis of a high standard of proof. Serious thought also needs to be given to making terrorist intent an aggravating factor in sentencing and closing any loopholes in the present terrorist offences. (2 February 2005)

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