David Blunkett: Freedom from terrorist attack is also a human right

I must act to prevent foreign nationals who we believe are terrorists from remaining at large
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Court of Appeal upheld my decisions yesterday to certify and detain 10 suspected international terrorists. That such a court says I acted lawfully should put an end to concerns in this newspaper and elsewhere that the detainees rights' are not being respected. But I'm not holding my breath - we have been here before.

At every stage, the detainees have made full use of their rights to go through a proper court process. Rightly so; I'm not impinging on that at all. My commitment to civil and human rights is as profound as any leader writer of The Independent or its readers.

The same court and the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), a superior court chaired by a High Court judge, has already agreed that the powers are justified because there is a state of public emergency.

As Home Secretary, I've a duty to protect our society and that's why I never cease to be amazed at how a newspaper which describes itself as "independent" can take such a rigid and stereotyped stance on justice and home affairs matters.

I deeply resent the inference in The Independent's leading article on Tuesday that taking decisive measures to protect the country against terrorism - and the measures have protected us - is somehow to deny those very rights.

I want a rational debate but based on facts. It is wrong to claim - as the media has this week - only 14 people have been charged out of more than 600 arrested under counter-terrorism laws.

In fact, about half of those who have been picked up under the Terrorism Act 2000 have been charged with differing offences - 97 of them under the Terrorism Act itself. Under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (ATCSA) 2001, 17 people have been certified, 12 of them are still detained.

The decision to detain any individual under the ATCSA is made on the basis of detailed information, not on a personal whim. It is not as David Blunkett that I act to protect national security, but as Home Secretary. And act I must to prevent foreign nationals who we believe are international terrorists, but are unable to deport, from remaining at large in the UK.

Ironically, given the criticism of me, the only reason I've not removed detainees from the UK is because I'm protecting their human rights - they might face torture or death if removed to their homelands.

To protect our human rights we are not allowing them on to our streets in order to resume the activities that they were engaged in before they were picked up.

Yes, they have been detained in circumstances where they cannot currently be removed - but to compare our situation with Guantanamo Bay is absurd and not comparing like with like. We have built in safeguards on the face of the legislation, they have a right to lawyer, they can leave the country at any time if they choose to do so, there is an appeal process. Our courts can release detainees on bail (as they have done in one case), or release them entirely (as they have done in another). Of course, yesterday's judgement underlines this reality.

With the facts, it is clear that comparison is not only erroneous and mischievous, but also dangerous. It leaves your newspaper's readers ill-informed, likely to be prejudiced against what we're doing, and to believe the vitriol directed against me about authoritarianism and lack of commitment to human rights.

As The Independent suggested, it's absolutely right that we put security and targeted intelligence first. That is what we are doing. We used the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act so sparingly and proportionately since 11 September 2001 that the suggestion of hundreds of people being held without trial has proved completely untrue.

But when the security service have done their job - and I pay tribute to them in doing it so well - what am I to do with those that they have identified as a risk to national security? Ask the same security service to spend day and night actually tracking them in the hope they will be able to stop them before a major tragedy occurs? I'm not going to gamble with people's lives.

As Home Secretary, I must balance legal theory with the practical job of protecting people. I don't say I have all the answers to these complicated questions, indeed that's why I started a public consultation in February. I, along with my ministers, have met several times with the Muslim Council of Britain to discuss the use of counter-terrorism powers. We are also engaging the Muslim community in the ongoing consultation process on the future of such powers.

In our democracy, everyone, including newspaper leader writers, have an obligation to do more than simply cynically oppose whatever it is that the Government does in these difficult and sensitive areas.

If you disagree with the status quo there is an obligation to engage positively both in presenting the true situation and coming up with realistic alternatives.

The writer is Home Secretary