Britain has a “once in a generation” opportunity to reform counter-terrorism measures, according to the civil rights organisation Liberty. The group welcomed an invitation from the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to participate in a review of anti-terrorism legislation.
The coalition government has promised to reverse what many see as the previous government's assault on civil liberties, much of which was justified in the name of the “war on terror”. But suspicion remains that the Liberal Democrats are keener on such change than their Conservative coalition partners.
The review will consider control orders, stop-and-search powers, pre-charge detention and targeted surveillance powers. It will be conducted by the Home Office and overseen by Ken Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions.
Liberty, who say that they are “delighted” to accept May's invitation to participate, have been calling for radical change in all the areas under review.
“No one underestimates the terrorism threat and everyone wants to see a country united, safe and free,” said Liberty's Director, Shami Chakrabarti.
She added, “Liberty welcomes this once in a generation opportunity to reform counter-terror measures and bring them within the rule of law. We intend to do everything within our power to ensure that the government does not waste it.”
Today (14 July), Parliament is voting to renew the provision that allows people suspected of terrorism to be held without charge for 28 days rather than 14. With the review of such legislation expected soon, the government is seeking a renewal for six months rather than the usual year.
Liberty, who have always opposed 28-day pre-charge detention, point out that no-one has been held without charge for more than 14 days since the government dropped its proposals for 42 days in October 2008.
Control orders are likely to prove one of the most controversial aspects of the review. Anyone subjected to a control order can have severe restrictions placed on his/her movement and who he/she may meet. They last indefinitely and those concerned do not need to be accused of any crime or even told why they are under suspicion. Both Liberty and Amnesty International have opposed them since they were introduced in 2005.
Amnesty today described control orders as "an affront to human rights", and urged supporters to lobby the government over the issue prior to the review.
Liberty is also calling for a review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which concerns the use of targeted surveillance by public bodies.
Last week, the Home Secretary announced she was suspending the provision which allows the police to stop and search people without having any suspicion of a crime. The practice was permitted by the controversial Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and had resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being searched but not charged. Liberty welcomed the temporary suspension but is likely to press for Section 44 to be permanently repealed when it comes to the review.