Friday, July 11, 2008

42 days detention is dead

For the past six months, the UK government has been attempting to extend the period suspected terrorists can be detained without trial - already the longest in any western democracy - from 28 days to 42 days. Now, the plan is dead. Not due to the actions of Conservative MP David Davis, who resigned to fight a byelection on the issue (and whose results are due in shortly), but due to the first speech of a new arrival in the House of Lords: Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller:

In deciding what I believe on these matters, I have weighed up the balance between the right to life—the most important civil liberty—the fact that there is no such thing as complete security and the importance of our hard-won civil liberties. Therefore, on a matter of principle, I cannot support the proposal in the Bill for pre-charge detention of 42 days.

I understand that there are different views and that these judgments are honestly reached by others. I respect those views, but I do not see on a practical basis or on a principled one that these proposals are in any way workable for the reasons already mentioned and because of the need for the suspect to be given the right to a fair trial.

What gives this opinion weight is that she is the former head of MI5, the very people tasked with combating domestic terrorism in the UK. The Lords were always dubious about extending detention, but this makes it almost certain to fail. Meanwhile, we get to savour the irony of a country where spies oppose further powers, and aristocrats are the last defenders of freedom...

(Hat tip: GoNZo Freakpower)