Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Briefing on the 42 detention bill

Human Rights Watch have produced a must read briefing on the government's latest anti terror bill, including the 42 day pre-charge detention. From the executive summary:

"The British government has an obligation to protect everyone living in the UK from terrorist violence. But counterterrorism measures that violate international human rights and undermine fundamental values are wrong in principle and counterproductive in practice. Simply put, they will not make Britain safer.

This briefing paper analyzes those measures in the Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008 Human Rights Watch believes are incompatible with the UK’s obligations under international human rights law. The bill is the sixth major piece of counterterrorism legislation since 2000.

Much of the debate around the bill has focused legitimately on the government’s renewed effort to extend pre-charge detention beyond the already excessive 28-day period. Human Rights Watch is convinced that UK law in this respect already violates the right to liberty under the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Further extension would be unnecessary, disproportionate and counterproductive.

However, it is also important to recognize that the bill contains other provisions that raise serious human rights concerns. The idea of broadening of police powers to question terrorism suspects after they have been charged with a crime was initially proposed by parliamentary committees and others as an alternative (rather than a complement) to extended pre-charge detention. But the measure in the bill lacks adequate safeguards against violations of the right to silence and against oppressive questioning, undermining the right to a fair trial.

The bill creates problematic notification requirements for those convicted of a terrorism or terrorism-related offence. Anyone sentenced to five years or more for a terrorism offense or a terrorism-related offense would be subject to these notification requirements for the rest of their lives. Any breach would be punishable by up to five years in prison. The requirements could be imposed on persons convicted outside the UK, without any regard to whether the conviction was the result of a fair trial according to international standards.

The bill adopted by the House of Commons also gives the Home Secretary (Interior Minister) the power to declare an inquest closed to the public and appoint a special security-cleared coroner to investigate in cases of death by the use of force. This procedure is unlikely to be compatible with the UK’s obligation under international human rights law to ensure independent and impartial investigations into wrongful deaths."

For something a bit more bite-sized, Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch has an article on the bill at Findlaw.

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