With the publication of the government’s anti-terrorism review just about to happen, and likely to include a large number of details, what are the key points to look for in judging how the review has gone?
So far, we know one outcome – the reduction in the maximum period people can be held without charge from 28-days to 14-days (which is in line with the Liberal Democrat manifesto). Yet to be published are the plans on control orders (the abolition of which has been another key Liberal Democrat demand) and on a host of other anti-terrorism legislation.
What to look out for then in the plans?
First, the response of those with genuine experience of anti-terrorist work who have since been freed up to speak their mind. People such as Ken Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions and now a Lib Dem peer, Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, and crossbench peer and another former head of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller. From what Labour has already been saying about the 28-days decision, it’s safe to say that many Labour MPs may react to the plans claiming they put the country in danger. But the reaction of people such as this trio will be a far surer guide to whether or not they do.
Second, what will happen on RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act)? This is the set of rules which allows councils to spy on people in order to investigate a very wide range of alleged offences and with, in some councils, only very little control over the use of the powers. The use of such powers in the most serious of cases is uncontroversial and some councils have put in place good safeguards and policies to ensure that is what they do. Will the review recommend further changes which guarantee this across the board?
Third, what will happen on Section 44 of the Terrorism Act and the very broad stop and search powers it granted the police? Section 44 has been widely cites in many cases of over-zealous policing, especially those involving people being stopped from taking benign photographs. Particularly with the Olympics coming next year, I would be very surprised if some form of extensive stop and search powers are not retained, but there is plenty of scope for the review to greatly restrict this.
Fourth, what will happen to the many other detailed powers that the review covers?
Fifth, what if any further moves are there to make it easier to bring terrorist suspects within the normal workings of the judicial system, such as over the use of intercept evidence (has a way been found to get round the legal problems talked up before Christmas?) and post-charge questioning?
And sixth – last but most certainly not least – what will happen to control orders? It looks fairly certain they will be scrapped and a different, less restrictive alternative solution used instead for the problem control orders tried (in their ineffective and very authoritarian way) to address. But how different?
In particular, how far will people subject to any future system be able to carry on legal activities as they wish – can they choose where to live, do they have to obey a curfew, are they allowed to use the internet and so on? A good overall clue will be whether or not the government thinks its plans meet the standards of European Convention on Human Rights.
Of the six questions, the first and the last are to me the most important, but all will help tell us whether or not the review combines effective action against terrorism with a preservation of those democratic and judicial standards that terrorists want to undermine.