Well, here’s something to make the British law and order crowd feel proud. The BBC reports that according to a survey carried out by the human rights group Liberty, the UK police have the power to hold uncharged terror suspects longer than any comparable country in the world.
British police can hold uncharged terrorism suspects for up to 28 days – and ministers are saying they want to increase that to up to 56 days. The Liberty survey, carried out by lawyers and academics in 15 countries, found that the second-longest detention period was in Australia – at just 12 days!
Other European countries have detention rules far less draconian than Britain’s. In France, terror suspects can be held for just 6 days before the equivalent of a charge is made. And in Germany, suspects must be seen by a judge within 48 hours but can be held without trial during the period of investigation. This must be reviewed by a judge at least every 6 months.
Here’s a summary of terror detention laws in Europe and the USA:
France: Up to 72 hours without seeing a lawyer and four years in pre-trial detention
Germany: Must be seen by a judge within 48 hours but can be held without trial during investigation
Greece: Up to 12 months – 18 months in extraordinary cases
Italy: Up to 24 hours without seeing a lawyer
Norway: Up to 48 hours – a judge can increase this period
Spain: Up to 72 hours without a lawyer – can be increased to a maximum of 13 days
USA: The attorney general can detain foreign suspects but must start deportation proceedings within seven days. Suspects can be held for periods of six months
It is difficult to compare legal systems, but Liberty used the charge as an indicator of when the process moves from the police to the judiciary. On that basis, the 28-day limit in the UK was by far the longest.
Liberty is calling for Britain to use alternative measures – for instance, by making intercept evidence, such as from phone taps, admissible in court.
It says that better investigatory powers for police would be more effective and fairer than an extention of the already lengthy detention times.
Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti told the BBC that she would also back measures allowing for a suspect to be charged with a lesser offence while investigations for other related offences continued.
“With safeguards, I think it’s perfectly proper to charge someone with a lower-level offence, like possessing explosive material or attending a terror training camp, while you continue to investigate a complex conspiracy to murder.”
What makes the UK’s approach to detention of terror suspects even worse is that the police have been keeping suspects in custody away from the courts for the full 28 days when they could have been charged earlier! The Daily Mail reported this allegation made by Conservative Shadow Security Minister Dame Pauline Neville-Jones: Don Stewart-Whyte and Mohammed Usman Siddique, who were arrested last August for alleged involvement in a conspiracy to detonate explosives on planes flying from Heathrow to the USA, were charged on the 28th day of detention when the police had had the necessary evidence for some days.
When the police act in this way, the extended period of uncharged custody is tantamount to internment. And this makes the government’s plans to extend the possible period to 56 days even more unacceptable. It would also be interesting to discover how often “suspects” are held for the maximum period and then released with no charges following. It’s possible that the police are using the extended custody as a way of keeping certain people off the streets, where they can’t make trouble for the establishment. And I don’t mean “trouble” as in criminal activities – I mean as in asking inconvenient questions in public, or taking part in political campaigns that embarrass the government.
If the government go on with their plan, the UK will be well on its way to becoming a police state. In fact, the UK already resembles a police state. Please let’s not make the situation even worse!