Campaign to stop extension of 28 days detention

9:30 am - November 22nd 2007

by Sunny Hundal    

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I am, like many others, alarmed at this government’s repeated attempts to extend the detention-without-charge period for more than 28 days. It is already the longest in the world. New Labour is becoming addicted to authoritarian legislation and we need to actively challenge that.

I’d like to start by exploring what part blogs can play in being part of a broader coalition to challenge the government on this issue.

We could start by collecting information that supports our cause.
– What are the alternatives to extending 28 days?
– Who opposes this extension and what have they said?
– Which journalists and commentators are also opposed?
– What other organisations are actively campaigning on this?
– What events are taking place to build support on challenging the government?

Any other ideas, readers?

I’ll soon start posting on each of the above. Please feel free to post any information that comes to mind in relation to the above points. As Henry Porter said this weekend:

How have we allowed this rolling putsch against our freedom? Where are the principled voices from left and right, the outrage of playwrights and novelists, the sit-ins, the marches, the swelling public anger? We have become a nation that tolerates a diabetic patient collapsed in a coma being tasered by police, the jailing of a silly young woman for writing her jihadist fantasies in verse and an illegal killing by police that was prosecuted under health and safety laws.

How indeed. Also worth reading is this article by Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Campaigns ,Civil liberties ,Detention (28 days)

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Reader comments

1. douglas clark


Rachel North has written a good piece too:

It is already the longest in the world.

Really? There’s an equivalence debate brewing here.

Lurking in the background: Guantanamo. Elsewhere, we have very lengthy house arrests being imposed on dissenters, which have the backing of law, despite the undemocratic nature of the regimes.

Is it not the case that the Meredith murder suspects in Italy can now be detained for up to one year? I don’t think they’ve been charged with anything.

I think the “longest” argument against detention would actually gain force if it was qualified. “Longest in western democracies” say, or “longer than Saudi Arabia” (if that is indeed the case). As it stands, it looks slightly hyperbolic.

Or am I being over-sensitive?

Either way, I should state for the record that I think 28 days is abhorrent, regardless of what other countries’ laws are…

Robert makes a good point. In democratic countries where judges do the investigating instead of the police, they tend to have wide discretionary powers of detention. Of course if you don’t like their decisions you can then appeal them before other judges, not an option if Plod has got you

This is Amnesty’s briefing for the House of Lords’ second reading of the Terrorism Bill, back in 2005:

The section on pre-charge detention is still valid, except they were opposing raising the level from 14 to 28 days. We need to avoid implying that the status quo is ok, while resisting any further increase: if 58 or 90 days are unjustifiable (and I think they are), that doesn’t mean that 28 is de facto ok.

A campaign against extension should be based on backed-up arguments for a time period that balances police investigation time against human rights principles to a fair trial and the potentially damaging consequences of what amounts to internment etc – alongside Liberty’s proposed alternatives to extension. Otherwise the government can just dismiss opposition as simply an unwillingness to accept the new.

On the who opposes front, if you begin with newspapers, then the Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Mirror and Mail are all as one. Yep, even the Mail:

The supporting side, assuming that the Express hasn’t changed its mind since 90 days, is Dirty Desmond’s lot (although whether the Star even comments on such things anymore I’m uncertain) and the Sun. And err, that’s it. The Times ties itself it knots in an editorial from July, again assuming it hasn’t changed its mind since:

“Mr Brown spoke of a “growing weight of opinion” on the need to extend the 28-day period of detention without charge for terrorist suspects. He clearly inclines towards the view, robustly championed by the previous Home Secretary, that this should be doubled. But he should think again. There is no proven need for a blanket extension. There may, however, be difficulties in some cases in amassing evidence, especially from overseas or from electronic encryption, within the time limit. The police, therefore, should be given flexibility so that, when genuinely necessary, they could apply to a High Court judge for an extension. Suggestions yesterday that cases should be referred to Parliament are absurd: the most important thing is that the process be sustainable, fair and not open to political interference. Only a judge has the authority to ensure that a police application is not an excuse for incompetence or prejudice.”

In other words, only the most illiberal and reactionary of newspapers are supporting a rise in the limit.

I personally reject Liberty’s last resort measure of using the Civil Contingencies Act; I don’t think terrorism, except in the aftermath of a huge attack, bigger say than 9/11 or a continuous campaign analogous to that in Iraq should ever justify the declaring of such a state of emergency. Extending the limit beyond 28 days in any circumstances would in my opinion be the equivalent of doing just that.

The case for (kind of), from Alex Carlile in Prospect. He challenges some of Liberty’s international comparisons:

Amnesty set out a simple list today of ten arguments against extending pre-charge detention. I blogged about it at but here they are in all their glory:

1. UNDERMINES one of our most basic rights, enshrined in UK law as far back as Magna Carta and now at the heart of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which UK is a signatory: the right for anyone who is detained by the state to be told promptly why they are being held and what they are charged with.

2. COMMUNITY relations will suffer if the Muslim community appears to be particularly targeted for prolonged pre-charge detention. This could have an impact on intelligence gathering and policing, and could undermine positive efforts to engage with Muslims in the UK.

3. IMPACT on any individuals detained for such a long time – in terms of their job, family, house, friendships and relationships within their community – would be devastating.

4. QUESTIONED widely by experts – Lord Goldsmith (former Attorney General), Stella Rimington (former MI5 Chief), Sir Ken Macdonald (Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service) and parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.

5. UNDERMINES presumption of innocence –Two months in prison is roughly equivalent to the length of time someone might serve in prison for assault. Lengthy pre-charge detention would impose what is in effect a ‘sentence’ of two months on somebody who may never be charged with any crime.

6. UK ALREADY has by far the longest pre-charge detention period for offences related to terrorism of any common law state.

7. INTERNATIONAL STANDING – it is much harder for the UK to criticise the human rights records of other countries that lock people up without charge when we are doing so at home. This measure would give other countries a ‘green light’ to curtail civil liberties.

8. HISTORY – from Northern Ireland and Amnesty’s experience all over the world – shows that locking people up without charge doesn’t work.

9. STATEMENTS obtained from suspects could be deemed inadmissible at trial if detention conditions are considered to be unduly harsh.

10. SAFEGUARDS discussed are insufficient – the kind of judicial oversight proposed is in no way the same as charging someone and giving them the chance to defend themselves in a fair trial.

Justice ( also issued a report yesterday looking at how the US has managed to charge terrorist suspects within a few days, further underming the government’s case that they need to be able to lock people up for two months without charge.

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