Mr Clarke must end arbitrary detention

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The Independent Online

This has the potential to be a crucial week in the history of civil liberties in Britain. Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, is due to meet the leaders of both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats in the hope of reaching a consensus on how to deal with 10 foreign nationals detained without trial, who are suspected of being involved in terrorism.

This has the potential to be a crucial week in the history of civil liberties in Britain. Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, is due to meet the leaders of both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats in the hope of reaching a consensus on how to deal with 10 foreign nationals detained without trial, who are suspected of being involved in terrorism.

After the Law Lords ruled that the arbitrary detention of foreign nationals was illegal last December, the Home Office hastily devised a regime of "control orders" to be imposed upon these men. Most contentious was the suggestion of a form of "house arrest". Terror suspects would be effectively held prisoner in their own homes indefinitely.

Unsurprisingly, this approach has been criticised from all sides since it effectively swaps one form of arbitrary detention for another. Under the new system the suspects would still not be allowed to know the evidence against them. There would still be no prospect of a trial. It would be just as offensive to Britain's traditions of civil rights as the system it would replace. Even the Conservative Party, not usually over-sensitive on human rights matters, is opposed to control orders because British citizens suspected of being a terrorist threat, not just foreign nationals, would be subject to this arbitrary detention.

As well as being unjust, these proposals are unworkable. It has been reported that the police and the secret services are wary of the plan on the grounds that the homes of suspects would become focal points for protesters, as occurred in Northern Ireland during the days of internment.

The Home Secretary must recognise that he has no choice but to drop the provisions for house arrest from the Government's forthcoming anti-terror bill. He must also give serious consideration to permitting phone-tap evidence to be used in the trials of those, such as these men, suspected of planning terrorist attacks. This is an opportunity for the Home Secretary to reassert the principle that arbitrary detention has no place in this country and that everyone in Britain has a right to a free and fair trial. It must not be missed.

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