Britain Looks to Increase Precharge Detention to 42 Days

By Matthew Harwood

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown renewed his push to expand the country's counterterrorism powers by expanding the amount of time a terrorism suspect can be held without charge to 42 days, reports Reuters.

[T]he new and complicated proposals would allow the government to use temporary measures only in extreme situations, permitting detectives to quiz suspects for a maximum of 42 days -- up from the current 28-day cut-off.

These additional powers, which would be subject to parliamentary approval, would expire after two months.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the measures were needed to address an increasing "serious and sustained threat".

Britain's security services have said they are monitoring thousands of individuals that pose a risk and so far this year 42 people have been convicted of terrorism offences.

Reaction to the new proposal on precharge detention was swift.

“The Home Secretary’s abrupt announcement wastes so much goodwill and months of so-called consensus building on national security," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group, Liberty. "There is no evidence to extend beyond what is already the longest period in the Western world. The Government risks alienating backbenchers, opposition parties and Liberty with this political gesture.”

In a study released in November, the group compared Britain's precharge detention power to other comparable democracies and found that the British government's power to hold terrorism suspects for 28 days was by far the longest. The next closest time period a suspect can be held for is seven-and-a-half days in Turkey.

Interestingly, advocates of expanding the maximum length of precharge detention concede that the present 28 day time period for holding suspects without charge has been sufficient. Their strongest argument for expanding precharge detention is the 2006 plot to bring down transatlantic flights, which pushed the police to the very brink of their investigative capabilities. Two suspects were charged on the 28th day.

Times (of London) specialists, Philip Webster, the paper's political editor, and Richard Ford, Home correspondent, argue  that Brown's unwillingness to budge on expanding precharge detention powers is a strategy to distance himself from scandals within his Labour Party that are out of his control.

Labour advisers are saying that talking policy - and getting away from a succession of events that are out of his control - is a key way for the Prime Minister to put these troubles behind him. Picking a fight like this suits Brown, and he's probably glad that the Conservatives have opposed him. By signifying his willingness to sacrifice some civil liberties in exchange for security, he aims to come through as a strong leader taking a principled stand in the face of opposition.

Brown, according to Webster and Ford, can also argue that he is continuing his push for longer precharge detention because Britain's top cops are asking for it. Both Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, and Sir Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, have given their professional judgement that a time will come when the current 28 day period is no longer capable of giving police enough time to investigate the increasingly complex and international nature of today's terrorism investigations.



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