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Summary of public meeting on National Campaign Against Anti-Terror Powers

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Baroness Kennedy attacks government proposal to extend pre-charge detention by Paul Donovan

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Baroness Helena Kennedy accused the police of seeking extra powers to detain terror suspects beyond 28 days to make up for their own technical deficiencies. Among the proposals in the Government's proposed Counter Terrorism Bill is for the police to be allowed to hold suspects in pre-charge detention for beyond the present 28 days. The 28 day limit was agreed as a compromise after Tony Blair was defeated in 2005 in his efforts to get the police 90 day pre-charge detention powers under the latest Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Addressing a Parliamentary meeting convened by the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, Baroness Kennedy told how the anti-terror Squad had only 16 people specialising in computer technology.

The investigation of crime has generally become more complicated with technology featuring far more. "What we are seeing is a police force that has not readied itself for how to police such crime", said Baroness Kennedy. Instead of upping the skills level to deal with the more complex technical problems the police have decided to reduce peoples' civil liberties. She also questioned police claims of needing more time to investigate complicated cases. "Whenever I've done any of the present terror cases, it is not a case of going from a year zero point of no knowledge. There has usually been surveillance, the bugging of peoples' premises in the lead up to an arrest. The idea of arriving at the arrest point as a standing start is not true", said Baroness Kennedy, who claimed the idea of extending the pre-charge detention period beyond 28 days to be an affront to justice.

The peer pointed out that the police already have a panoply of powers including being able to bail people and take out control orders. She recalled how the terror threat had been used during the Irish Troubles as an excuse for cutting civil liberties and the war on terror was being used in a similar way today. "The difference is today that the erosions are even greater and more shocking that at the time of the Irish Troubles", said Baroness Kennedy.

Human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce struck a similar cord claiming that 20 years ago - when the country was being bombed daily by the IRA - people were shocked by the suggestion of seven day pre-charge detention. Mrs Peirce claimed lies and untruths had been told to take away peoples' civil liberties. "There is a cynicism about those pushing this through, that if they don't get 56 day pre-charge detention, they'll get something less", said Mrs Peirce, who described a momentum to legislate away rights. She warned that if things continued in the present direction people will have no faith in the law, courts or judges. "It is not just about 28 days detention, there is a cynicism growing about our absolute rights which we let go at our absolute peril", said Mrs Peirce.

Scottish lawyer Aamer Anwar suggested that what the police want is indefinite detention. "The last time we had that in Ireland it acted as a radicalising mechanism and became a recruiting sergeant for the IRA", said Mr Anwar. The new Irish are the Muslims. Mr Anwar declared civil liberties are a matter of life and death. "The new laws will build resentment and hatred in this country", said Mr Anwar.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabati claimed that the campaign against extension of pre-charge detention was being won. "It is being won in the courts, Parliament and the media", said Ms Chakrabati, who described the latest proposed anti-terror legislation as presenting a seminal moment.