Thursday, June 12, 2008

42 Day Detention Without Charge

As you may have heard, the British government is trying to pass a bill allowing the extension of pre-charge detention time from 28 days to 42. The idea is that since terrorist plots are getting more and more complicated, having more time will allow police to pass a better case on to the Crown Prosecution Service (responsible for deciding which cases are actually taken to court).

This makes me furious!

The time allowed before charge in terrorism cases has already recently risen from 14 days to 28. That's an increase of 100%, and in no case has the 28 day limit been insufficient. Not one. There have been some that came close. Bizarrely, the Home Office page dealing with this states that the limit is still 7 days in terrorism cases, and 96 hours (only with the authority of a magistrate) in other cases. Someone needs to update that page.

I believe that there are already emergency powers available which would allow the police to hold someone for more than 28 days without charge, although I can't check this as the main website detailing these powers keeps returning a "layout not found" error. I've never had one of those before.

My problem is this. Given how pre-charge detention limits have already crept up, and the Government's history of insidiousness in other areas (for example the extension of the London congestion charge zone - not the same scale, but you see what I mean) I simply do not trust the leaders of my country to use these proposed powers in the way they say they will. I'm trying to be calm and rational, and not immediately draw comparisons to 1984, but I'm finding it difficult.

I do believe, however, that even if the Government wins the vote it will find it difficult to put these powers into practice. The BBC has a decent overview of the proposed procedure - as you can see, the Chief Constable would need to make a joint request to the Home Secretary with the Director of Public Prosecutions. The DPP has already said that he feels these measures are unnecessary

The Government knows it faces a tough challenge on this, as its latest concession shows. Up to £3000 per day (according to some stories) for someone held but not charged? Right. It seems that this is a better use of funds than to actually get the case right in the first place. I'd suggest the police are given that money to have forensic evidence put through at high priority, or pay for more officers to investigate, or... really anything. I understand the police are in a difficult position, but I don't think this is the right way to help them.

And what about those people - and there are some - who would deliberately try to stay in custody for longer than 28 days in order to get the payment?

I'm not against reform; the existing system is confusing. I'm against extending how long people can be held for without charge. It's that simple. So I'm keeping an eye on this page to see how things are progressing. I've signed the petition on the 10 Downing St website and I've written to my MP (although as a Liberal Democrat she should be voting against the Government anyway). Hopefully this silly measure will be defeated.

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