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Brown stitched up the Labour leadership - now he wants to stitch up our liberty

Campaigners reject "sham" call for consensus over anti-terror measures

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)
Friday 8 June 2007

We don't need any more bells and whistles bolted on to Britain's anti-terror laws. We need fundamental change to our anti-terror policies. We need laws that target criminals, laws that protect the innocent, laws that encourage careful, rational police work, laws that discourage drag-net investigations, discourage prejudice, discourage racism, discourage panic. In other words we need the ordinary criminal law, not gimmicks invented to boost the discredited "war on terror."

Yesterday's official unwrapping of the government's long-trailed package of "anti-terror" measures makes it clear that New Labour's assault on civil liberties isn't about to end any time soon. SACC is opposed to the new measures and opposed to Gordon Brown's efforts to construct a sham "consensus."

Gordon Brown wants to prove his mastery over the Labour Party by extending police powers to hold "terror" suspects without charge beyond the current limit of 28 days - already far too long. Blair couldn't get Parliament to accept this even in the aftermath of 7/7.

Brown also wants to allow police to question people even after they have been charged. To give police this kind of power over people in the most vulnerable situation imaginable guarantees miscarriages of justice. He's even floating the idea of withdrawing the right to silence of ordinary members of the public by giving police powers to stop and question us. To refuse to talk would be a criminal offence. And he wants to give police still greater powers to bully and harass the men held under control orders - men who have never been charged with any offence and seem to have been selected for persecution mainly on the basis of grudges held by members of the intelligence services.

The government wants to conduct a review into allowing intercept evidence to be used in terrorism court cases. But the key issue concerning communications intercepts in Britain isn't whether or not the evidence should be allowed into court. The problem is that Britain lacks any effective procedure for holding communications-tappers to account. Figures provided in this year's annual report from the Interception of Telecommunications Commissioner (covering 2005 and the first three months of 2006) show (when adjustments are made for reporting methods) that interception warrants have reached a new annual high of 5,723. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The total number of requests by "public authorities" (the nine agencies, 52 police forces, 139 prisons, 124 local authorities and 26 other public authorities) for communications data from service providers has reached a staggering 439,054. The Commissioner says that, of all these public authorities, it is the law enforcement agencies that are the principal users and that they have "acquired fully automated systems."

The Intelligence Commissioner says, in a report covering the same period "I do not propose to disclose publicly the number of warrants or authorisations issued to the agencies."

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect to all this is Brown's obvious wish to put these issues - some of the key issues facing Britain today - beyond the reach of politics. The man who became Prime Minister without a vote or even a debate wants "cross party agreement" for his attack on freedom before he puts it before Parliament.

We've been here before. For thirty years, successive British governments demanded - and got - a "bipartisan" approach to politics and policing in Northern Ireland. It alienated a generation of Irish people, stifled intelligent debate, guaranteed a compliant media and prolonged the "troubles." And it meant that rumours about state crimes in Northern Ireland's dirty war remained just rumours - mentioned in eccentric corners of the media but never brought to centre-stage and never publicly addressed by anyone holding political power. Brown's push for a consensus will come as a great relief to the murderers of Jean Charles de Menezes, to the spooks who stitched up the men held under control orders and the men being deported to torture in Algeria and Jordan, and to the officials who managed not to notice rendition flights calling at British airports.

Spin-poodle Lord Carlile is already at work promoting Brown's new vision. The Liberal Democrat peer and "independent" reviewer of the working of the terrorism laws has done as much as anyone to paint an acceptable face onto New Labour's machinery of repression. His methodology is to criticise some details, give his backing to whatever New Labour wants most, and steer the debate well away from fundamentals. So it's no surprise to find him expressing support for plans to extend pre-charge detention beyond 28 days.

Brown wants us all to agree on some sensible measures to do something about terrorism. Anyone can see that the proposed legislation goes far beyond that. But the problem is even deeper. The new measures, like previous initiatives, are built on the wide-ranging and politicised definition of terrorism contained in the Terrorism Act 2000. The definition includes acts that don't involve personal violence. And it outlaws support for overseas political movements engaged in almost any kind of serious opposition to tyranny.

Any anti-terrorist measure, however modest, that is build on such a definition is guaranteed to create injustice. Anyone who watches the new film Taking Liberties, released today, will come away understanding that legislation like this is a threat to everyone.

We don't need any more bells and whistles bolted on to Britain's anti-terror laws. We need fundamental change to our anti-terror policies. We need laws that target criminals, laws that protect the innocent, laws that encourage careful, rational police work, laws that discourage drag-net investigations, discourage prejudice, discourage racism, discourage panic. In other words we need the ordinary criminal law, not gimmicks invented to boost the discredited "war on terror".

John Reid said he is "committed to discussing the issue with interested organisations, including police, the judiciary, civil liberties groups and communities".

We've seen this kind of consultation before. Lord Carlile conducted a lengthy review of the definition of terrorism and published his findings in March this year. He invited contributions from civil liberties groups and communities. Many groups, including SACC, made substantial submissions to the review. But few of the submissions found their way into Lord Carlile's report. It contains hardly a hint of the concerns expressed by many groups in their written submissions. And it doesn't mention the widespread opposition to the legislation Lord Carlile encountered in consultation sessions held around the UK. It certainly doesn't reflect the views expressed at the Lord Carlile held in Glasgow last July. Everyone attending the meeting - including police officers - was critical of the current legislation. Instead, Lord Carlile concluded the definition of terrorism was "useful and broadly fit for purpose."

The current definition of terrorism means that Britain's anti-terrorism laws are instruments of foreign policy at least as much as they are instruments of domestic policy. Everyone knows that it is Britain's support for US aggression in the Middle East that has made Britain a target for terrorists. Even those who believe that western intelligence agencies could be behind some terrorist incidents would agree that the Blair-Bush wars are at the heart of the problem. It's only the lunatics in the Cabinet that deny the link.

SACC will be insisting that any consultation over the government's new proposals must deal with the core issues of Britain's policy on terrorism. The Home Office appears to think that Lord Carlile has kicked this debate into the long grass. It is mistaken.

Richard Haley
On behalf of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)
contact@sacc.org.uk 07936432519

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