Control orders law renewed, jail without charge up to 42 days demanded: shame!

In September 2005 the Blair government, having introduced the odious system of control orders ('house arrest lite' without charge, trial or time limit) earlier that year, was proposing to extend to three months the period in which terrorist suspects could be imprisoned for interrogation without charge.  A letter of mine, published in the (London) Times newspaper on 23 September 2005 — no longer apparently accessible on the Times website, but quoted in full at the time on this blog, qv — argued that since control orders were even more objectionable in principle than detention without charge for a few weeks for questioning provided that the latter was intensively monitored and supervised by a high court judge, parliament should trade the repeal of the control orders régime for a short extension of the maximum period of detention without charge for questioning subject to proper judicial supervision and approval.  

Of course neither suggestion was adopted:  the repulsive control orders régime continues, and although the proposed extension of detention without charge to three months was rejected in Blair's first parliamentary defeat, now, nearly three years later, a new prime minister and his home secretary are once again asking for an extension of detention for questioning, this time from the present 28-day maximum, already the longest in the western world, to 42 days, even though hardly anyone in or out of parliament can see any need or justification for it:  and parliament agreed last week by 267 votes to 60 to renew the discredited control orders régime for yet another year. 

Once again we have the worst of all possible worlds.  It defies belief that only 60 MPs were prepared to stand up and be counted for the ending of control orders.  Such is the potency of the fear of being labelled 'soft on terrorism' in our ruthlessly adversarial political system;  such is the flabbiness of spine of our politicians, or most of them, and the blind obstinacy of our ministers.

By an irony that one may describe as delicious or savage, according to taste, —

the day after the legislation was extended for a year, the supposedly significant and sensitive intelligence used to justify imposing one of these control orders was revealed as a sham when a high court judge dismissed the control order against 25-year old British national Cerie Bullivant, ruling that there was no "reasonable suspicion" that he intended to take part in terrorism abroad… [the justification that had been advanced for the imposition of the control order]

— in the words of the British historian Andy Worthington.  I can't improve on Mr Worthington's comments on these shabby events here.  Please take a few minutes to read them, including the comments appended to them.  A description of what it's like to be subjected to a control order, recommended in one of the comments on the Worthington blog, is also worth reading — all eight web pages of it.

Nothing changes, alas. 

As long as we persist in subjecting people who are entitled to the presumption of innocence, and who have not been charged with any offence, to control orders which in many cases are sufficiently harsh to ruin their lives, or locking them up for weeks of questioning before any charge is brought against them, we are really in no position to denounce the iniquities of Guantanamo or extraordinary rendition — both undeniably worse, but only in degree.  Denial of our basic civil rights, and the oppression of ordinary people on the basis of mere suspicion, are intolerable in either greater or lesser degree, and on whatever side of the Atlantic they may be practised.


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