Secret remands planned for terror suspects

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The Independent Online

The appointment of security-cleared judges to decide behind closed doors how long terror suspects could be held without a formal trial are being considered by the Home Office, it was reported today.

Under the French-style system, the judge would have access to sensitive intelligence material - including evidence from phone taps - in drawing up a pre-trial case.

Suspects would be represented by security-cleared advocates but they would be barred from revealing to their clients the evidence under which they were being held.

Tony Blair last week revealed that the Government was "already examining a new court procedure which would allow a pre-trial process.

Unveiling a raft of counter-terror proposals at a press conference on Friday, he added: "We will also examine whether the necessary procedure can be brought about to give us a way of meeting the police and security service request that detention pre-charge of terrorist suspects be significantly extended."

At present, suspects can only be held for a maximum 14 days but the police want that extended to up to as much as three months.

The Liberal Democrat legal affairs spokesman Simon Hughes suggested there "may be a case" for security-vetted judges doing special work.

But he said he doubted a major extension of the time suspects were held could be justified.

"Suddenly to say you can justify three months when we've only got two weeks now of detention, you will need to persuade us and a lot of other people much more than has been done so far," he told BBC2's Newsnight.

"If the evidence is there yes, we'll take it but the evidence has not been shown and I am doubtful it would be persuasive."

The Tory spokesman Edward Garnier urged the Government to "calm down and think these things through" and consult other parties on the detailed proposals.

The Labour MP Andrew Dismore said it would be a "welcome move forwards" if such decisions were taken by the courts rather than politicians.

Ian Macdonald QC, who quit as a special advocate to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission which hears deportation cases, described the proposals as "a bit botched".

He said it was unclear whether the Government wanted to move towards a French-style system of investigating judges or was simply trying to extend the time that terrorist suspects could be held without charge beyond the current 14-day limit.

"If you are going to move to a completely new system of pre-trial investigation along the French lines, we haven't got a corps of judges who can lead a major investigation into crime," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"What it looks like is that it won't, in fact, be anything like the French system, but will, in fact, be a method of extending the detention of suspects for more than two weeks.

"That's the trouble, We haven't got a clue whether it is, in fact, a move towards an entirely new system or whether, in fact, it is just dressing up the existing system and allowing the further detention of suspects."