Tough anti-terror laws echo Labour's response to attacks 30 years ago

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The Independent Online

Faced with differing terrorist threats, separated by three decades, incumbent British governments have chosen to rush through draconian anti-terrorism legislation.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, the civil rights group, warned: "On the day when the Prime Minister apologises for past miscarriages of justice, his Government is paving the way for many future injustices. The proposal to bring in house arrest for those suspected of terrorism is the latest in a long line of assaults on the right to a fair trial. We have yet to learn the lessons of Northern Ireland. Everyone knows that internment without trial was the best recruiting sergeant the IRA ever had and yet that is the policy the present Government have adopted in its new war on terror."

So what are the similarities?


1970s: In 1974, the Labour government introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act which allowed suspects to be detained for seven days without charge or access to a solicitor.

Today: In December 2001 a New Labour government rushed through the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act which introduced indefinite detention without trial for foreign terror suspects.


1970s: More than 2,000 people were interned without charge or trial under earlier legislation between 1971 and 1975.

Today: Since December 2001, 17 foreign terror suspects have been detained under the new emergency terror legislation.


1970s: In 1974 a Whitehall committee recommended min-isters extend the length of detention and the powers of search and arrest for suspected terrorists.

Today: Charles Clarke tells Parliament that he wants to use draconian powers of house arrest.


1970s: The 1973 Emergency Provisions Act created the Diplock courts where judges hear terror cases without juries.

Today: Under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act judge-only courts, called the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), hear secret evidence. Mr Clarke has floated the idea of extending such courts.


1970s: Ministers considered using ID cards to combat terrorism but rejected it on the grounds that it would be too difficult to police.

Today: David Blunkett committed the Government to introducing ID cards.


1970s: The European Court of Human Rights ruled the Prevention of Terrorism Act to be in violation of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires suspects to be "promptly" brought before a judge. Nevertheless, the British government refused to abandon its detention policy and countered the European Court's ruling by invoking Article 15's provision for countries to ignore the Convention on Human Rights "in time of war or other emergency threatening the life of the nation".

Today: In December the House of Lords ruled that indefinite detention without trial under the 2001 anti-terror legislation was a breach of the foreign terror suspects' fundamental human rights. The Government's reaction was to say that the judges were simply wrong.


1970s: Hundreds of people were arrested and convicted under the terrorism laws. The Irish community demonstrated over discriminatory targeting.

Today: Hours after the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 came into force police staged dawn raids on the homes of suspected terrorists.


1970S: Growing concern that several convictions were unsafe.

Today: SIAC ordered the Government to release one of the foreign terror suspects held at Belmarsh after criticising the quality of the evidence used to detain him. Then without explanation Mr Blunkett, and later Mr Clarke, freed two more suspects including "C", who was released last week.