Leading article: The time has come for an overhaul of our terror laws

Official hysteria over the threat does nothing to make us safer

Share
Related Topics

Is Britain in a state of public emergency? Is the very life of the nation under threat? The Government apparently thinks so.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights points out in its latest report that the Government evoked the public emergency clause of the European Convention on Human Rights in 2001 to derogate from the convention and detain terror suspects without trial. Though this detention was ruled illegal by the Law Lords in 2005, the Government never dropped its assertion that there exists an existential threat from terrorism.

The committee argues that this refusal of ministers to admit that this judgement was unjustified has had a "deleterious effect" on the public debate about anti-terror laws ever since. That is putting it mildly. Over the past decade, ministers have used the justification of a supposedly overwhelming national terror threat to engage in an unprecedented power grab for the executive at the expense of many of our most important civil liberties.

Gordon Brown's shameful effort to extend detention without trial to a maximum of 42 days for terror suspects when he became Prime Minister was rejected by the Lords but remains in the legislative process as a draft bill to be enacted if needed. The police's use of stop and search has exploded. Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act – which enables forces arbitrarily to designate large areas as security zones – is being widely abused. An elaborate system of control orders has grown up, which places terror suspects under effective house arrest. The committee's recommendation that all counter-terrorism legislation passed since 11 September 2001 be reviewed by parliament to determine whether it is still necessary is absolutely right. And there is a great deal that ought to be scrapped.

The way to deal with terrorism suspects is not through morally dubious control orders, but to put them on trial. Assiduous and well-funded police and intelligence work – not heavy-handed legislation that undermines our civil liberties – is the way to respond to the domestic terrorist threat.

The fact that intelligence is so important to this effort makes it even more disgraceful that the head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, refused to testify before the committee. The idea that the need to keep sensitive information confidential would make such an appearance impossible is pure nonsense. American Congressional committees manage to hold their intelligence services to account without jeopardising national security in the process. Why should our intelligence services be immune from proper democratic oversight? The Intelligence and Security Committee, which meets entirely in secret and reports to the Prime Minister, is not a credible substitute.

As the committee also points out, government moves to make intelligence intercept evidence admissible in court – something that our US and European peers have managed – have also foundered on the resistance of the intelligence services. It is high time our elected leaders stood up to the illiberal spooks and the mindless securocrats that have held sway over official policy for far too long.

No one disputes that the threat from terrorism in Britain is real. But hysterical official assertions about the scale of that threat do nothing to make us safer. And the trading of ancient liberties for a thin blanket of security is the very worst way for Britain, as a nation, to respond.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

M&E Construction Planner Solihull

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Car, Healthcare, Pensions: Progressive Recruitment...

Senior Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Leading Sof...

Chemistry Teacher

£90 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Assistant Editor: Domestic violence is no petty matter

Siobhan Norton
 

There’s nothing wrong with GM

Steve Connor
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried