Oppose the Counter Terrorism Act 2008


CAMPACC press release

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Counter Terrorism Bill at a Critical Stage in Lords

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On 9th October the Counter Terrorism Bill will come under a wide ranging attack by the peers in The House of Lords during the committee stage.  The extension of pre-trial detention will be opposed forcefully, with amendments to remove these clauses.  On 8th July, during the Second Reading debate in the House of Lords, more than 50 peers participated; two thirds of them spoke against the extension of pre- trial detention.

Peers will also attack several other measures which were largely obscured in the House of Commons and in the mass media by the '42 days' debate.

A major concern is the special rules for freezing assets, as proposed in Part 5 of the Bill. These rules would allow evidence to be withheld from the appellant and his lawyers; such a process would be more unfair than anonymous witnesses.  To quote Lord Goodhart 'It is plain that the special procedure should, in any event be used as little as possible, whether for control orders, asset-freezing or anything else.'  Amendments have been tabled to remove Part 5, as suggested by Lord Goodhart.

Similarly the proposals to introduce secret inquests, through special procedures at the discretion of the Home Secretary, would undermine the independence of the traditional inquest system. This came under detailed criticism from Lord Lester, Baroness Miller and Baroness Stern in the Second Reading.

The Bill's proposal to strengthen the control order regime would aggravate an unjust system.  The Joint Human Rights Committee took a view, emphasised by Baroness Stern, that the control order regime will not be human rights-compatible withou measures to ensure that there is priority to instigate prosecution, with a trial by jury, in an open court.

Many parts of the Bill may seem innocuous in isolation, but they represent another step towards criminalisation of the innocent. The powers to gather information, and to criminalise failure to disclose information, do not consider how cultural and language barriers may criminalise ethnic minorities and respect for privacy. The required notification to police by convicted individuals, as well as travel restrictions, are not geared to risk assessments of individuals but rather target groups.

Although there seems to be overall support for further questioning post-charge of a terrorist offence, such questioning would be oppressive, given the trauma the accused is likely to be in on arrest and detention and to raise an inference of guilt for failure of the suspect to answer questions is entirely unacceptable.

To quote Lord  Steyn: '.. it is the first duty of Government to protect citizens from harm  ....but it does  not excuse the endless excesses an acts of lawlessness committed in the name of the war on terror...   Surely , objectively speaking, the Bill can be seen to be an attempt to lead the public to think that it is a serious attempt to improve security. It does nothing of the kind.'

Notes to editors

1.   The official report of the Second Reading Debate on 8 July is available in Hansard, Volume 703 No. 122

2.   Apart from the extension of detention without charge to 42 days, the CT Bill has many proposals which undermine the rights of 'suspects' to due legal process and impose ever greater punishment without trial:-

  • Post-charge questioning of "terror suspects" - possibly right up to the trial date, presuming that the "suspects" are guilty

  • Conviction of ordinary offences will result in longer sentences if they are considered to have a "terrorism connection"

  • Convicted "terrorists" can have their property confiscated - bank accounts, vehicles, computers, homes, etc. - a punishment not just them for them but also for their families who may have no connection to the offence

  • Extra punishment - a ban on foreign travel and having to inform police of whereabouts for convicted "terrorists"; this would be imposed without any proper court procedure

  • Secret inquests - inquests into deaths caused by police action may be held secretly in the interest of national security. The police will not be brought to account in any future cases like the Menezes shooting

  • Penalising charities - volunteers at charities who do not give information to the police of suspected terrorist activity at their place of work - supporting a banned "terrorist" organisation, for example - could face prosecution

  • Penalising anti-war protest - seeking or communicating information about the armed forces that could supposedly be useful to terrorism will also become an offence. The Bill would also criminalise the collection of information on armed forces by investigative journalists, thus attacking free speech.

3.  The protest is organised by CAMPACC which set up the National Campaign Against Anti-Terror Powers, now supported by 26 other civil society organisations. These are : The 1990 Trust; Baluch Human Rights Group. Cageprisoners; Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF); Centre for the Study of Terrorism (CFSOT);Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers; Index on Censorship; Institute for Policy Research and Development (IPRD); Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC); July 7th Truth Campaign Justice not Vengeance (JNV); Kurdish Federation UK; London Guantanamo Campaign (LGC); Muslim Parliament; Panjaab National History Society; Peace & Progress; Peace and Justice in East London; Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC);Sheffield Muslim Association (MAB)Sheffield Guantanamo Campaign; Solidarity (Scotland's Socialist Movement); South Asia Solidarity Group (SASG);Stop the War Coalition (STWC); Tamil Campaign for Truth and Justice; Tamil Centre for Human Rights; Westbourne Grove Church.

4.   Further information on the campaign can be obtained from www.campacc.org.uk