Reform of terror laws on Labour agenda for new year

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Charles Clarke pledged yesterday to publish proposals for reform of anti-terror laws early next year after the law lords ruled that Belmarsh detainees were being unlawfully held without trial. But the Home Secretary said he would not be forced into a hasty decision.

Charles Clarke pledged yesterday to publish proposals for reform of anti-terror laws early next year after the law lords ruled that Belmarsh detainees were being unlawfully held without trial. But the Home Secretary said he would not be forced into a hasty decision.

Answering an emergency question on the ruling, Mr Clarke told MPs: "I am not going to be rushed into taking a set of views on this in the first few days of my stewardship of this office, without looking at the situation in the round. Early in the new year, I will come with proposals for the House to look at and then we can look at that, in the round, as it should be."

Mr Clarke came under more pressure yesterday to withdraw the controversial legislation or face further resignations of lawyers handling detention cases. The threat followed the decision by Ian Macdonald, QC, to stand down as one of the 15-strong panel of special advocates, barristers appointed by the Attorney General to represent foreign terror suspects at secret hearings.

At least four more senior lawyers are understood to be considering resigning unless Mr Clarke changes the law on the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects without trial. The dispute follows a House of Lords' ruling last week that the system was unlawful and a breach of the Government's human rights obligations.

Mr Macdonald said he felt the Government had "used" him and his colleagues to give a veneer of legitimacy to an "intolerable" distortion of the rule of law.

Several special advocates are also known to feel great unease with the current system, but are not expected to take any action until Mr Clarke has given his full response to the ruling. They are thought to include Nicholas Blake, QC, Andrew Nicol, QC, Rick Scannell and Tom de la Mare.

Under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act introduced in 2001, foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism who cannot be deported can be held indefinitely without trial. There are 11 foreign suspects held under the law, most of whom have been imprisoned without charge at Belmarsh jail since December 2001.

Mr Macdonald said: "I have resigned for reasons of conscience. It is up to other lawyers to make up their own minds ... We need to have a full return to trial by jury, a proper criminal trial with proper accusations. As far as I'm concerned, the Government have to ... rethink their whole strategy."

Comments