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The Erosion of our Liberties - The Quiet Man Speaks

42-day detention: the threat to our liberty | John Major - Times Online

...The Government's legislation to permit 42 days pre-charge detention brings to the fore the wider question of civil liberties. In their response to the security threat ministers have dragged us ever closer to a society in which ancient rights are seriously damaged. I doubt this is the Government's intention, but it is the effect.....

I don't believe that sacrifice of due process can be justified. If we are seen to defend our own values in a manner that does violence to them, then we run the risk of losing those values. Even worse, if our own standards fall, it will serve to recruit terrorists more effectively than their own propaganda could ever hope to.

That is no longer theoretical: we now have home-grown terrorists - born in Britain, not in Waziristan. Will they be encouraged or discouraged to rally to militancy if we bypass the sober rituals of law with which we are familiar?

The Government has introduced measures to protect against terrorism. These go beyond anything contemplated when Britain faced far more regular - and no less violent - assaults from the IRA. The justification of these has sometimes come close to scaremongering.

After terrorist attacks on London, Parliament doubled the time that suspects could be held without charge from 14 days to 28 days. Probably, that was justified. But soon Parliament will be asked to increase detention without charge to 42 days. To appease opposition, the Government is cobbling together face-saving compromises. If the measure is passed, it will be a pyrrhic victory that owes more to political survival than principle. Even so, it is hard to justify: pre-charge detention in Canada is 24 hours; South Africa, Germany, New Zealand and America 48 hours; Russia 5 days; and Turkey 7½ days.

There is no proof that an extended period of 42 days would have prevented past atrocities. There is no evidence it will prevent future atrocities. No example has yet been given of why the police need more than 28 days to frame a charge. This is a slippery slope. Assertions that it “might be useful” simply will not do. If we are to curtail the liberty of the individual, we must have more certainty than that.

But it is not only the case for 42 days detention that is bogus. So is the case for identity cards. They were to be voluntary. Now it is clear that they will be compulsory. Yet the Government has admitted that such cards would not have stopped the London bombers. Nor will they cut illegal immigration, since asylum-seekers have been obliged to carry ID cards for nearly eight years. Nor will they have any real impact on benefits fraud, as this is typically caused by misrepresentation of financial resources rather than by identity.

The Government has been saying, in a catchy, misleading piece of spin: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” This is a demagogue's trick. We do have something to fear - the total loss of privacy to an intrusive state with authoritarian tendencies.

This is not a United Kingdom that I recognise and Parliament should not accept it.

Nor do I believe that anyone can defend another government innovation: a national identity register containing the DNA of tens of thousands of people who have never been charged with an offence....This cannot be right: for me, it is all uncomfortably authoritarian.

So is a society in which the right to personal privacy is downgraded. These days a police superintendent can authorise bugging in public places. A chief constable can authorise bugging our homes or cars.

The Home Secretary can approve telephone tapping and the interception of our letters and e-mails. All of this is legal under an Act passed by the Labour Government. None of this requires - as it should - the sanction of a High Court Judge......

No one can rule out the possibility of another atrocity - but a free and open society is worth a certain amount of risk. A siege society is alien to our core instincts and - once in place - will be difficult to dismantle. It is a road down which we should not go.

Sir John Major was Prime Minister from 1990 to 1997. In 1991 the IRA tried to bomb him and his Cabinet as it met in Downing Street

A damning article, read it all.

As a side note try to imagine the panic and measures that would result if the present crew in No 10 had three mortars land in the back garden as the Cabinet met. John Major merely said, "I think we'd better start again somewhere else" and the Cabinet moved their meeting to a room in an adjoining building.


I hope you don't mind, but I would like to cross-post this tomorrow.


Matt Wardman

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