Curfews are renamed 'overnight stays' in new anti-terror laws

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The Independent Online

Terror suspects will still be ordered to observe a curfew of up to 10 hours following a review of the controversial control orders regime that was dismissed by civil liberties groups last night as a mere rebranding exercise.

Ministers were accused of coming up with a new "control-lite" system in a bid to reconcile deep divisions of opinion within the Coalition. Several elements in a planned overhaul of anti-terror laws set out yesterday by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, were widely welcomed. They included moves to scale back the number of stop-and-searches by police and to reduce from 28 days to 14 days the maximum period suspects can be questioned without charge.

Protests centred on Ms May's announcement that control orders were being abolished and replaced by a "less intrusive and more focused regime". Instead of facing curfews of up to 16 hours, suspects will have to comply with an "overnight residence requirement" – staying at home overnight for eight to 10 hours – to be enforced by an electronic tag.

They will no longer be forcibly relocated to other parts of the country, but could still be banned from particular buildings, streets or areas. The current embargo on using mobile phones and computers will be eased; phones without access to the internet will be allowed and computer use permitted as long as passwords are shared with the security services. Suspects will also be subject to greater surveillance by police and their restrictions lifted after two years unless new evidence is obtained against them.

The measures follow heavy criticism of the control orders regime introduced by Labour in 2006, for breaching civil liberties and for being ineffective.

Cerie Bullivant, a British Muslim convert who spent two years on a control order after he was wrongly accused of terrorism, said the stress of being a virtual house prisoner wrecked his life and almost triggered a mental breakdown. The replacement regime was agreed after months of protracted discussions between the Coalition partners. The Liberal Democrats promised in their manifesto to abolish control orders.

Some Tory ministers, including the Home Secretary, were heavily influenced by warnings by the security services that some replacement was essential in three or four of the eight cases of people currently on control orders. Ms May said: "Sadly there is a small number of cases where it is not possible to prosecute people or deport them, but we need to take measures to protect national security."

She added that the new curbs would be called "terrorism prevention and investigation measures" (T-PIMs), but the change of name failed to stem criticism from civil liberties groups.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "Spin and semantics aside, control orders are retained and rebranded, if in a slightly lower-fat form."

Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader, said there were "fundamental" changes to the old regime, resulting in a "proportionate response which ensures that we keep the British people safe but do so in line with the finest traditions of due process and equality before the law".

How liberal?

Control orders

Curfews will be replaced by need to stay at home for eight to 10 hours overnight. Suspects will also have more access to mobiles and computers, but will face more surveillance.

How liberal? While the more draconian aspects have been scrapped, suspects still face daily limits to their freedoms.

Stop and search

Police will now only be allowed to act where they think it is "necessary" rather than "expedient".

How liberal? A balance between security and liberty. Ministers are sending a signal to police over past misuse of powers.

Pre-charge detention

28-day maximum reduced to 14 days.

How liberal? An advance, but Britain will still have one of the longest pre-charge detention periods in western world.