Goldsmith challenges Blair over terror laws

Attorney General warns ministers. 90-day lock-up plan 'not justified'
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Indy Politics

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, is believed to have told the Home Secretary he is not persuaded it would be right to detain terror suspects for 90 days. The warning comes as members of the Cabinet prepare to meet police tomorrow to discuss the Government's terror Bill which is published this week.

Lord Goldsmith, who is a member of the Cabinet, has recently written to Charles Clarke giving his views on the Government's new anti-terror legislation ahead of the meeting. His failure to give the stamp of approval to the proposed terror law threatens to embarrass the Government and could throw its plans to crack down on terrorism into disarray. Lord Goldsmith's doubts are understood to be shared by several other members of the Cabinet as well as by senior figures in the Home Office.

In his note to Mr Clarke, the Attorney General is believed to have said that, although extending detention beyond 14 days would be acceptable, he is not convinced that keeping suspects incarcerated for as long as 90 days would be justified.

"He has written as a member of the Cabinet in response to the terrorism Bill," a senior government source said. "He is not persuaded that it is justifiable to hold them for three months. That doesn't mean he might not be persuaded in future."

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, has written to Mr Clarke asking him to publish all Lord Goldsmith's papers on the terror proposals. He has made it clear that the Liberal Democrats will, like the Tories, oppose plans to incarcerate suspects for as long as 90 days.

Tony Blair is likely to confront criticism head on when he holds a press conference this week and meets Labour MPs. Tony Blair's own watchdog on terror laws has warned that proposals to hold suspects for up to three months may be unworkable, The Independent on Sunday has learnt. An official report sent to the Home Secretary has raised doubts about the plans.

The Government's official reviewer of terrorism law, Lord Carlile of Berriew, is believed to have warned there could be problems with holding suspects for up to three months. The report, due to be published this week, is expected to criticise the proposal to extend detention of terrorist suspects from 14 days to three months and recommend a fresh look at a Continental system which offers suspects greater judicial protection.

Lord Carlile, a senior QC and criminal barrister who was appointed the statutory reviewer of terrorism legislation in 2001, refused to comment on the contents of his report. But, speaking to the IoS, he reiterated the need for anti-terror laws to be compatible with human rights legislation.

"One of the things is that you have to balance the civil liberties of people who are accused, sometimes wrongly, of being involved in terrorism, against the civil liberties of the vast majority of the public who do not want to be blown up on the Tube," he said. "There are two issues. One is the time limits; the second is ensuring that evidence is gathered in a proper way. And you have to ensure that there is an appropriate system of law to protect the subject."

His report is expected to refer to a 2003 paper on terror by Lord Newton. This highlighted a French system employing a security-cleared judge and offered stronger legal safeguards.