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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Still waiting for the answer

Tempting as it is to talk about Lembit Öpik's interview with Piers Morgan for GQ magazine there are far more pressing issues to consider than why the two Cheeky Girls share a bed.

In particular we are shortly to face a vote to consider whether the period of time somebody can be detained without charge should be extended to 42 days or not. A House of Commons Committee reports today that the case for such a change has not been made.

According to the Guardian 19 Labour backbench rebels met at Westminster yesterday and resolved to vote against the proposals next Wednesday, even if they caused the government short-term damage. They say that the rebels refused to discuss how wide their support was, but denied the vote had crumbled:

Frank Dobson, a leading rebel organiser, said the concessions tabled by the government on Tuesday after weeks of internal debate still allowed ministers to detain alleged terrorists for 42 days routinely, and questioned the value of the commitments that there had to be evidence of a threat of a grave terrorist emergency.

"The power to detain for up to 42 days is not confined to an emergency, it is there as an administrative convenience," Dobson said. He recalled that when he became an MP, the police had a power to detain suspects for only three days. "Defeat next week would be a temporary setback for the prime minister, but in the long term it will be of benefit to him."

The joint human rights committee said that the additional safeguards set out by the Home Secretary did not include "any additional judicial safeguards for the individual at hearings to extend their detention. The lack of proper judicial safeguards at such hearings is one of the main reasons why extending the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 42 days without any additional judicial safeguard would be in breach of the right to liberty in article 5 of the European convention on human rights," it said.

There was also no evidence provided by the home secretary which demonstrated that the terrorist threat was escalating, the committee said.

It warns: "In our view a requirement that the secretary of state merely make a declaration to parliament that she is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances giving rise to an exceptional operational need to use the power would not amount to much of a safeguard."

The committee says this "can only be made meaningful if there is an opportunity for that assertion to be tested by independent scrutineers, whether in parliament or the courts".

It also dismisses the offer to allow parliament to debate the issue within seven days of the home secretary taking a power to detain beyond 28 days, arguing the debate would be circumscribed by the risk of prejudicing future trials.

It is likely that the Government will now win the vote on 42 days. That can only be bad for our democracy.

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