Anthony Scrivener QC: Iraq war and repressive laws are Blair's true and lasting legacy

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The Independent Online

Mr Blair's starting point is that if the police consider some new repressive measure to be necessary then he should take notice. There is no question of the onus being in favour of civil liberties - in fact civil liberties do not get a mention.

The Government wants to create a new criminal offence of glorifying the commission or preparation "(whether in the past, in the future or generally)" of acts of terrorism. It is already an offence to incite someone to commit a crime. The meaning of "incitement" is well established and means "to encourage" or "to persuade". These words draw an understandable dividing line between incitement to commit an offence and freedom of speech.

But the Government is not satisfied with this. The new offence, apart from being incomprehensible and unworkable, does not distinguish between terrorists who are bad and freedom-fighters like the French Resistance and Nelson Mandela who are not. It constitutes a serious curtailment of the freedom of speech.

The police want to hold a terrorist suspect for renewable 14-day periods up to a maximum of three months. As one retired judge recently remarked - this looks like internment. The fact is that the police do not always get it right and many suspects will end up not being charged with any criminal offence.

It is true that terrorist investigations tend to be far reaching. Extending the maximum period to say six weeks may be justified in certain cases after appropriate judicial scrutiny. Longer than this would not be justified. There is another point.

As many experts will point out, admissions made after or during long periods of detention often turn out to be unreliable.

Then there is the problem of trying to deport persons who have already been accepted as refugees back to the country where it has already been accepted they have a "well founded fear of being persecuted" simply on an undertaking by that country to be nice to him. Such an undertaking is impossible to monitor and the proposal cannot be implemented without amending the Human Rights Act - what a triumph that would be for the terrorists.

Will the Iraq war and these repressive measures be the true lasting legacy of Mr Blair and his Government?