The Magna Carta (1215 A.D) states "No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or ... in any way harmed ... save by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land."
Unfortunately, this right may well be one of the victims of the Blair Government´s "War on Terror". The commons vote on the anti-terror bill was won by 309-233 votes; with 32 Labour MP´s voting against the government. Dissent would have been greater, but the government promised to look at judicial involvement in the issuing of control orders again - prompting a number of MP´s to abstain.
The anti-terror bill is a response to the ruling from the law lords against the discriminatory detention of foreign suspects without trial. To prevent further legal challenges, the bill to replace the post-9/11 emergency legislation will apply to all British citizens as well as foreign nationals. The existing powers of imprisonment without trial lapse on March 14.
Yet again, we are assured that the government wouldn´t actually use the powers they are granting themselves. So why do they want them? The security services have advised that there is currently nobody in Britain who poses such a serious threat to national security, and it is thought that government´s legal advice is that the current state of emergency is insufficiently acute to justify the immediate use of these powers. So, we are told that the government needs to curtail our rights in case there is a large scale bombing in the U.K.
The home secretary then went on to say that if he did use the powers (which he is not going to use) they would be subject to judicial review (after the fact). He also assures us that he will not impose house arrest without a further vote (he doesn´t have much choice here as the U.K would have to opt out of EU legislation in order to do this). However, the government has announced that the measures will be rushed through the Commons, and that the initial order to detain will still be made by the home secretary, and evidence will be considered on "reasonable grounds" unlike every other criminal case where guilt must be "beyond reasonable doubt".
Mr Howard argued "People accused of terrorist offences should be brought to trial. While they await trial, they must be detained in prison. Their innocence or guilt must be determined by a court of law - not by the home secretary."
Yet again, we need an undemocratic throwback (the House of Lords) to protect us from The Government´s desire to turn the U.K into a police state. The law lords previously ruled that the detention of suspected foreign terrorists without trial was discriminatory and in breach of the European convention on human rights, now they will need to throw out this bill - which will probably get passed in the Commons.
Both the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner have made clear they believe the ban on using phone-tap evidence should be dropped. However, the Government still prefers detention without trial and deportation.
In typical new labour "double-speak" the government is claiming that the opposition are being soft on terrorists by denying them the right to detain anyone they like without trial on secret evidence. If you are not with them, you are against them.
When it was suggested by Oliver Heald MP (Con) that "At one time you would not have defended these proposals which are redolent of the sort of measures you fought so fiercely against in South Africa." Mr Hain replied helpfully, "I´m not going to take any lessons from you about civil liberties. Your synthetic anger suggests you wish to remain in opposition, rather than behaving with the responsibility that the government is required to behave with, facing the terrorism threat".
The home secretary alleged that those who were involved in international terrorism would be subject to detention, and any derogation from the European convention on human rights would only be in connection with the Al-Qaeda network. He then added that in extreme cases animal rights activists and other forms of "domestic terrorists" might be subject to lower level control orders but they would not face house arrest, while demonstrations and political lobbying would not be affected.
Quite frankly, I don´t believe this statement, and I don´t believe that the government has the right to ignore the rights of any group of people. After all, many of those held in Guantanamo (and other illegal ex-judicial prisons) have been denied their rights on the allegation that they are illegal combatants (which is laughable given that the U.S does not agree her troops are subject to international human rights law, and the U.K government lied when they said the war in Iraq was legal).
The Home Office is considering publishing "fictionalised accounts" of a particular terrorist group´s plans to operate in Britain. How the hell will this help? Perhaps I should publish fictionalised accounts of the Blair government unpicking our legal protections one at a time until every U.K citizen is labelled, tracked and watched before being imprisoned for life for complaining!
He is also considering disclosing more details of the exact nature of the terrorist threat and confirmed "Those who say there is no terrorist threat are living in a dream world."
Listen you twat, we know there is a terrorist threat. Following the U.S.´s policy of sanctions and invasions (which co-incidentally increase their riches, but make the world poorer) we have a lot of enemies. This is not a new situation for the British Empire. We used to be the big baddies, and now we are the snivelling runt who hangs on the coat tails of the big baddies. I am not in the least convinced that we need repressive laws now, which were not even considered necessary at the height of empire or during WWII. Are we really claiming that the risks now are greater?
The daily Telegraph noted "An unspoken, unpleasant defence of the new law is that only certain kinds of British citizen would suffer its rigours. Those citizens would tend to be dusky, with un-English names. Such thinking reflects a real problem ... If some Muslims were put under house arrest, their coreligionists would feel all the more like a suspect people. Such detention would be a recruiting sergeant for political Islamist extremists, just as internment was for Irish republican extremists."
In my view, the real threat to the U.K is not terrorist bombing. One day we will wake up and realise that we have no freedoms left, and the government can arrest and dispose of anyone who offends them, or disagrees with them. This day may not be as far away as we think.
Compare and contrast:
"There is no greater civil liberty than to live free from terrorist attack. The main duty of any prime minister is to do everything possible to protect the security of our nation and its citizens." Blair in 2005 (in power)
"The liberty of the subject should be taken away not by the act of a politician, but by a court of law." Blair in 1994 (in opposition)
Labour MP Brian Sedgemore summed up the position perfectly.
"Our debate is a grim reminder of how the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are betraying some of Labour's most cherished beliefs. It is truly terrifying to think what these MPs will vote for next. I myself can only describe this as New Labour's descent into Hell and Hell is not a place I want to be."