Detention powers in terror cases may be reviewed

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Indy Politics

Plans to lock up terrorist suspects without trial for up to three months could be resurrected by the Government.

Ministers had to abandon the plans to increase the detention period from 14 days to 90 days last year in the face of a rebellion on its own back benches.

It is now being increased to 28 days under legislation passing through Parliament.

However, Charles Clarke made clear yesterday the Government had not abandoned its ambition to bring in a longer detention period.

The Home Secretary told MPs he was ready to look at the issue again when he brings in a new anti-terror Bill next year or in 2008.

He said: "I don't think we should pre-judge and say what we have got on the length of detention is there for ever. I'm not advertising a view that we wish to revisit 28 days but I am not accepting that it will be 28 days come what may."

The 90-day proposal was championed by Tony Blair and Mr Clarke with the backing of police chiefs. But it led to the Prime Minister's first Commons defeat when 49 Labour MPs voted against the Government to support a 28-day period.

A 28-day detention period, to become law shortly, will be the longest of its kind in western Europe and reopening the issue, even in one or two years' time, would be highly provocative.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said any attempt to rekindle the plans would be divisive.

He said: "Detaining people for 90 days without charge risks creating martyrs and could act as a recruiting sergeant for potential terrorists. Any attempt to resurrect this argument would be divisive. What the Government should look for is national unity, not the opposite."

Mr Clarke also called for an overhaul of the court system, indicating he favoured a French-style system with magistrates directing police operations.

Mr Clarke said: "I don't think the adversarial system has been a particularly successful system of securing justice."

He acknowledged, however, that he was unlikely to win the backing of the legal establishment.