Fiddling at the edges on control orders not good enough

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, says the innocent may be still be punished without trial and the guilty will continue to evade prosecution and imprisonment.

Shami Chakrabarti is the director of Liberty

At last we have the results of the Home Office Counter-Terrorism Review. There is much to welcome. The blanket “section 44” power to stop and search without suspicion is to go. This follows Liberty’s victory in the Court of Human Rights last year on behalf of Pennie Quinton and Kevin Gillan – a journalist and peaceful demonstrator respectively- stopped without grounds at an arms fair in 2003.

The ability secretly to designate whole counties for such arbitrary police power has proved an embarrassment rather than an asset to the Service. It is obviously right that it should be replaced with a much more targeted provision aimed at specific terrorist targets in the light of intelligence.

Then there is intrusion by local authorities. Another of our clients, Jenny Paton, found her young family subjected to targeted surveillance worthy of a 1970s police drama when Poole Council suspected her of living in the wrong school catchment area.

There are big enough dangers with undercover policing without handing the tools to untrained bureaucrats. The review rightly recommends the need for magistrates’ warrants in the future.

Twenty-eight-day pre-charge detention is brought down to 14 days (still the longest period of any comparable democracy) and “extreme” but non-terrorist groups will not be banned after all. These decisions speak to sense not sensation. They represent real attempts to reign back some of the authoritarian instincts of recent years.

All the more disappointing the pronouncement on control orders. A Government capable of rolling back the Executive in all of these areas should not have skirted the most shameful legislative legacy of the misjudged “War on Terror”. If stop and search without cause is dehumanising, imagine punishment without police interview, charge or trial.

If Jenny’s children found the trailing car frightening, what about the “controlees” children; vulnerable to house raids at any time? If 28 days is too long to be punished without charge, how does that square with an extendable two years under a control order?

By fiddling at the edges of a discredited regime, the government did itself little credit. Worse still, the pretence at having “abolished” an evil it plans to transfer from “temporary” legislation to permanence. This was a once in a generation opportunity to drive the treatment of terror suspects back into the criminal justice system.

Instead, the innocent may be still be punished without trial and the guilty will continue to evade prosecution and imprisonment.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.