Letter: Human rights and the fight against terrorism

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Sir: It is important that the political row between the Conservatives and Labour revealed in the Independent (7 March) does not obscure the issues at stake when Parliament considers the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (PTA).

In 1974, the then Home Secretary introduced the PTA, and Parliament passed it into law in record time. At the time, Roy Jenkins said the Act would only be needed for six months - to provide a breathing space in the fight against terrorism. Since then it has become a permanent feature of our political landscape, despite the ways in which the Act violates the UK's international human rights obligations.

Defenders of our constitution often argue that a Bill of Rights is not needed in this country, as Parliament can correct its own mistakes. On Wednesday (9 March), Members of Parliament will have such an opportunity. If repealing the Act is too bold a step to take, there are three distinct areas where MPs could take steps to - at the very least - introduce a greater consideration for human rights into the operation of the law.

The powers of extended detention without the authority of a judicial officer have already been challenged by the European Court of Human Rights in the Brogan case. The Government has refused to comply with the court's ruling, but Parliament could bring the legislation in line with the court's view, which would restrict the period of detention.

In addition, the travel controls permitting the examination of individuals travelling between Britain and Ireland (North and South) for up to 24 hours should be reviewed. Thousands of Irish people's first experience of Britain is a prolonged examination at a port of entry.

Finally, Parliament should have the courage to follow the recommendations of the Government's own adviser on the PTA, Lord Colville, and abolish the use of exclusion orders. They are a form of internal exile without independent judicial scrutiny of the original decision. Decisions to exclude are not subject to review by an independent tribunal with the power to quash the order. Any provision that gives the executive the power to control freedom of movement without any scrutiny by Parliament or the courts has nothing to commend it. The suspicion must be that the power is open to political abuse.

Parliament may simply renew the provisions of the Act. If it does so, it will be one more confirmation that Parliament can no longer protect people's rights, and that we need a Bill of Rights to enforce the standards required by international law.

Yours sincerely,


General Secretary


London, SE1

8 March