British government urged to scrap 'shaming' anti-terror laws
Published 19/08/2010 | 13:06
The British government must do away with the "most shaming aspects" of the UK's response to the terrorism threat, campaigners said today.
Control orders should be scrapped, the use of intrusive surveillance curtailed and stop-and-search powers urgently amended in a complete overhaul of counter-terrorism legislation, Liberty said.
The civil rights group called for the 'war on terror' to be replaced with "the rule of law" as the government considers its policies.
Launching Liberty's response to the terror law consultation, policy director Isabella Sankey said it is "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the UK to reflect and correct these dangerously counterproductive counter-terrorism and security policies".
"We think this is the right opportunity to do away with the most shaming aspects of our response to the terrorism threat and we need to make sure this opportunity is not missed," she said.
Ms Sankey said Liberty's most urgent priority for the review was to scrap the control order policy, used to place terror suspects under close supervision, "in its entirety".
"It was a political fix that was rushed through parliament by the previous government and continues to attract international amazement," she said.
Control orders were unsafe, she said, as seven of the 45 individuals issued with them had "absconded without trace".
The policy cost €15.8m over the last three years.
Liberty also called for a "complete overhaul" of the terrorist asset-freezing regime, which it said could have "devastating effects on individuals and their families".
Freezing the funds of proscribed organisations should be dealt with distinctly from freezing individuals' assets, it said.
The civil rights group also warned that the British government risks "tacitly condoning torture" by seeking assurances from countries with policies of ill-treatment before deporting suspects.
Calling it a "diplomatically embarrassing policy", Ms Sankey said that rather than seeking hollow assurances, the UK should focus on improving conditions in those countries to which it seeks to deport people.
British government powers to proscribe an organisation which was concerned in terrorism were "already far too wide" and any extension "would be a step too far".
Ms Sankey warned the British government against extending measures which could ban a wide range of non-violent political groups that promote hatred.
"It would be a dangerous signal to send in a free society," she said.
Liberty added that the current stop-and-search powers were also "too broad" and were being used disproportionately against photographers.
Urgent changes are needed to ensure the powers "only apply to those who intend to use the photographs for the purposes of terrorism".
It said there was "widespread misunderstanding" of the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) and it was "inappropriate and confusing that powers to access communications data are spread across the statute book".
"Ripa alone should strictly govern access to communications data," it said.
"We question whether local authorities should have access to any Ripa powers at all - with such highly intrusive surveillance powers better suited to law enforcement agencies than local councils."
The campaigners described the pre-charge detention of terror suspects as "shamefully long" and an "egregious breach of the UK's human rights obligations" that puts the UK out of step with comparable democracies.
The 28-day period "needs to be considered afresh and the period reduced to a proportionate level", they said.
Announcing the review of counter-terrorism policy last month, British Home Secretary Theresa May pledged to correct "mistakes" made by the previous government which, she said, was allowed to "ride roughshod" over civil liberties.
A Home Office spokesman said: "The government wants powers which are necessary, effective and proportionate. We must ensure that in protecting the public we uphold people's civil liberties and freedoms.
"We welcome Liberty's contribution and the outcome of the review will be reported to Parliament in the autumn."