Rushing into new anti-extremist powers has a troublesome history

Here we go again.   The undoubted threat represented by ISIS and the return of its recruits to the UK is leading to calls for new banning orders for extremist groups, new civil powers to target extremists, and measures to target persons even when have actually not broken the law.   It has also led to proposals to revoke the passports of returning British citizens, a power already being used after it was introduced in April this year via royal prerogative executive powers – an anachronistic means of acquiring new powers without explicit parliamentary authority.   The emphasis is being put on strengthening terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs) which replaced control orders and are almost identical with them, when the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation David Anderson has recommended stronger ‘locational constraints’ and required attendance at probation service meetings, though these are unlikely to make a decisive difference.

Two key questions arise?   Are these proposals justified and will they work?   On the latter point, control orders failed for several reasons.   Blair tried to bring in 90 days detention without charge, but was roundly defeated in Parliament on the grounds that this was far too extensive a removal of liberty without the right to know what one is charged with (habeas corpus).   Control orders also did not achieve their purpose since several of those made subject to them simply absconded.   Even more concerning was that only person on whom a control order was imposed was later charged with a terrorist offence, and even in that case he was not convicted.

Nor can control orders be readily justified.   Under the special procedure developed in these cases, the controlee would be given a special advocate who would argue the case on his behalf having been shown the evidence brought against him, but the person himself would still not be told what the charges were and therefore unable to argue the case in his own defence.   There must also remain open questions about both the reliability and comprehensiveness of the data provided by the security services to the special advocate, as well as concerns about the acceptability and role of a special advocate chosen by the State, not the individual himself.

It is important to note too that there are already powers to prosecute returning ISIS recruits under the Terrorism Acts of 2000 and 2006, and that rendering them automatically stateless is contrary to many UK treaty obligations.   In addition it should be remembered that, notoriously, section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 has been extended to use against protesters on extending Heathrow and even heckling at a Labour party conference.   Today’s extremists can soon become tomorrow’s dissidents.   Above all we need to be on our guard that if we believe that civil rights, democracy, pluralism and the rule of law are essential British principles, as Cameron himself declared in 2007, we should not act now in defence of those principles in a manner that patently undermines them.

3 thoughts on “Rushing into new anti-extremist powers has a troublesome history

  1. As Michael Meacher points out powers can be abused and quickly form part of the ‘ways and means act’. The more sweeping the powers the greater the potential injustice. It is also extremely dodgy trying to introduce laws and powers to deal what people might do. Clearly prevention of crime is always a massive part of the police role but superb judgement is required and sometimes the police lack it. How many officer when faced with someone filming them has resorted to accusations of terrorism? The stock response from middle England to sweeping new powers will be along the lines of ‘if you haven’t done anything wrong you have nothing to fear’. Just as the de Menezes family what they think of that.

  2. “Today’s extremists can soon become tomorrow’s dissidents?”

    It would certainly be nice to think so.

    I think you probaly meant, “Today’s dissidents can soon become tomorrow’s extremists?

    But then this isn’t about anything other than pulicity and yet more self important and self rightous posturing from our lying sociopath PM.

    As a British citizen now in my late 50’s, various groups of people have been trying to murder me on variou pretexts for most of my life;,so what else in new?

    Nor do I believe not for one moment that men and women of the Muslim persausion, that I have lived among for many years now, have all turned into dangerous terrorists overnight.

    I don’t doubt the risk is real enough, the stabbing of Steven Timms and murder of Lee Rigsby demostates that clearly, but this kind of knee jerk hysterical legilation that amounts almost to a declaration of marshal law and the complete suspension of the most basic civil liberies.

    Saddly and frighteningly as well, if that’s price of grabbing the next headline from an invigerated and resurgent UKIP, then as Cameron has already demonstrated repeatedly there is nothing so low that he won’t stoop to it.

  3. It reminds me of the statements made by Thomas More in a man for all seasons about removing laws so that we can catch those who wrong us:

    “And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

    This should be repeated in the Commons.

    I always think that you should consider what might happen to yourself, when the law no lnger protects you.

    It makes me think, as I attended a 3 degrees campaign on Saturday against TTIP, and will attend a TUC rally on London on the 18th Oct. I am more worried than I used to be however, about exercising my right to protest. Especially now that water cannon has been purchased by Boris.

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