Azara Blog: Government wants to extend time for so-called terror suspects to be held

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Date published: 2007/11/04

The BBC says:

The 28-day limit on holding terror suspects without charge is likely to be doubled by the government.

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said the government wanted to extend the limit, "probably" to 56 days.

Security Minister Lord West said "about 50" was the figure being talked about - but said safeguards would have to be in place to win over critics.

But he said efforts to extend it to 90 days had been wrong, and were handled "in the most appalling way".

It is thought the government will make an attempt to extend the current 28-day limit in the Counter Terrorism Bill to be announced in the Queen's Speech on Tuesday.

Attempts in 2005 to extend pre-charge detention to 90 days ended in Tony Blair's first Commons defeat as PM.

Instead, MPs voted to extend the period from the then limit of 14 days to 28 days.

Mr Blair warned them he hoped they would not "rue the day" and argued the police case for 90 days had been "compelling".

But Lord West told the BBC: "The 90 days I have no doubt whatsoever, was far too long.

"I think when it was tried to be done it was done in the most appalling way and we need to make sure we don't make that sort of mistake again."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he wants political consensus on the issue and has suggested one option would be to double it to 56 days.

Lord West told the BBC the complexity of some cases meant that "we really do need more time to look into them".

But he admitted he was "not sure" how the government would be able to persuade critics to accept an extension to "around 50 days".

"We have to show absolutely that we really do need this and we have to show absolutely that we have real safeguards in place, certainly judicial oversight, Parliament would have to be told... and there may be other mechanisms we can do to look after people."

If the government is so keen to lock up (quite probably) innocent people for 56 days, then the least it ought to promise is to compensate these people fully if they are not convicted of a crime for which the sentence is more than the time they were held. So say for the first week that someone is held, they get 1000 pounds compensation per day. Then for the second week, 2000 pounds per day. Then for the third week, 4000 pounds per day. And so on, doubling the amount every week. (And lest the government be tempted to arrest someone, then let them go after a week, then arrest them again ten seconds later, the time should not reset to zero.) This way the government will not be tempted to hold someone just because they are too underresourced and/or incompetent to get their work done in proper time. Or perhaps ministers should promise that for everyone held under this scheme who is not eventually convicted of a (serious) crime, then a minister will be sentenced to exactly the same amount of time in prison.

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