Clarke plans new terror law following election

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Indy Politics

Charles Clarke is preparing a further terror crackdown even as he backs down on controversial house arrest measures.

Charles Clarke is preparing a further terror crackdown even as he backs down on controversial house arrest measures.

The Home Secretary will stage a face-saving climb-down in the next few days to get the new powers ahead of a deadline next week. But while he will offer two concessions to appease critics of so-called control orders, he is determined to drive through new measures immediately after the election.

A new terror Bill is currently being drafted and will be introduced shortly in a Labour third term, The Independent on Sunday has learnt. It will create new offences of helping or associating with terrorists to make it easier for the police to prosecute those they suspect of involvement. Tony Blair also wants a new offence of being party to terrorist offences committed abroad. "What we are seeing now is the beginning. We will be doing much more after the election," a senior aide said.

Mr Clarke, however, has quietly dropped plans to introduce no-jury trials and a lower standard of proof for those prosecuted for terrorist offences. The measures, mooted by David Blunkett, are thought to have no chance of being accepted by Parliament or the judiciary. Ken Macdonald, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has warned Mr Clarke he could not support them.

His immediate priority is to ensure that his controversial proposals for control orders, including house arrest, are in place before powers to jail foreign terror suspects without trial lapse in a week's time.

The deadline means he is almost certain to accept Tory amendments to ensure judges impose all, not just the most serious, orders. Mr Clarke is also preparing to accept a so-called "sunset clause" that requires a further review of the use of the powers this autumn. However, the Home Secretary is expected to dig his heels in over demands that suspects be shown the evidence on which they are detained. The issue is regarded as the most important by former judges and peers.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, made clear that judicial involvement in the imposition of all orders was a non-negotiable principle for the party. He attacked the Government's "authoritarian" approach in a speech to his party's spring conference in Harrogate. Mark Oaten, the party's Home Affairs spokesman, earlier told activists: "We must now hold firm on the principles of judges, not politicians, taking decisions on evidence being heard by defendants - on strong standards of proof and, above all else, that prosecution is the best way to defend ourselves from terrorists and to defend our liberties."

The legislation will be debated in the House of Lords on Monday and Tuesday before going back to the Commons for its final reading on Wednesday. If Mr Clarke seeks to overturn the Lords' amendments, he risks being without a law whenexisting powers of detention without trial lapse on 14 March.

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