British government under fire for controversial antiterror bill
The plan, which would allow suspected terrorists to be detained for 42 days without charge, faces broad opposition.
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The antiterror bill faces opposition from within the Labour Party as well. The Independent of London, in a survey of Labour members of Parliament (MPs) last month, found that at least 38 MPs were opposed to the plan to expand detention to 42 days. If at least 34 Labour MPs join the opposition to vote against the bill, the government will not be able to get it passed. The Independent notes that former Prime Minister Tony Blair suffered a similar rebellion within Labour ranks in 2005, when he tried to pass an antiterrorism bill that would have expanded uncharged detentions to 90 days maximum. That bill failed when 49 Labour MPs joined the opposition against it.Skip to next paragraph
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The Independent also reports that there are concerns within the Home Office about the bill's possible side effects. The paper writes that Ms. Smith was warned by researchers in her own department that the expanded detention could hurt relations with British Muslims, who see themselves as the bill's intended targets.
An equality-impact assessment, published by the department, said that Muslims felt that the anti-terror legislation already in force discriminated against them. It noted: "Muslim groups said that pre-charge detention may risk information being forthcoming from members of the community in the future."
The research echoed the conclusions of focus groups of young Muslim men conducted on behalf of Liberty, a civil liberties group. The polling company ComRes found that most Muslims believed the 28-day maximum was already too long. They said: "There is a strong consensus that extending the limit would only serve to promote the extremists' cause, that it would do little to help tackle terrorism, that it would damage the UK's international reputation and that it would further erode community relations."
And in an editorial, The Times of London wonders whether there's any evidence to support the government's claim that the extended detention is really necessary. If not, The Times says, it should not be made law.
Police currently have four weeks from the date of arrest to build cases against terror suspects. Ministers claim that extra time is needed because of the sheer complexity of the conspiracies they face, many conducted in foreign languages and with computer encryption. Such challenges should not be understated. But there have been no cases to date in which charges might have been brought in six weeks that were not brought in four or fewer, and only 11 suspects have been held without charge for longer than 14 days since the limit was raised to 28 days in 2006. ...
Last November, in his capacity as the anti-terrorism czar, Lord West of Spithead told the BBC that he was not persuaded by the arguments for extended detention without charge. Barely an hour later, after meeting the Prime Minister, he said he was persuaded after all. If he was told of specific cases where two extra weeks might have meant important convictions, Parliament deserves to know. If not, the conclusion must be that this plan has more to do with politics than security. It has no place on the statute book.