The new Anti-Terrorism Bill: what can it mean, if anything?
In the debate today (23 Feb 05) on the government’s Prevention of Terrorism Bill, described by several Labour back-bench MPs and others as the worst and most repressive piece of British legislation for 200 years, Bob Marshall-Andrews QC MP (Lab.), himself no slouch when it comes to interpreting obscure legal language, claimed that it was in effect impossible to discover the meaning of Clause 4 of the Bill which lays down the duration of validity of the ‘Control Orders’ to be made by the home secretary to deprive terrorist suspects of their liberty, completely or partially, without trial. Mr Marshall-Andrews, in a speech containing some magnificently eloquent invective against the Bill, argued that if Clause 4 was unintelligible in English, it would be even more utterly meaningless when translated into Arabic, Urdu or Gujerati. To enable you to match your legal skills against Marshall-Andrews’s, here’s the text of that clause in all its glory:
4. Duration of derogating control orders
(1) A derogating control order–
(a) has effect (subject to subsection (3)) for a period of 6 months beginningwith the day on which it is made;
(b) must specify when that period will end; and
(c) may not be renewed.
(2) Subsection (1)(c) does not prevent the Secretary of State, whenever a derogating control order ceases to have effect–
(a) from exercising any power of his to make a new control order to thesame or similar effect for a further 6 month period; or
(b) from relying, in whole or in part, on the same matters for the purpose of making that new order.
(3) A derogating control order has effect at a time only if–
(a) the relevant derogation remains in force at that time; and
(b) that time is not more than 12 months after–
(i) the making of the order under section 14(1) of the HumanRights Act 1998 (c. 42) designating that derogation; or
(ii) the making by the Secretary of State of an order declaring that itcontinues to be necessary for him to have power to imposederogating obligations by reference to that derogation.
(4) The power of the Secretary of State to make an order containing a declaration for the purposes of subsection (3)(b)(ii) is exercisable by statutory instrument.
(5) No order may be made by the Secretary of State containing such a declaration unless a draft of it has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.
(6) Subsection (5) does not apply to an order that contains a statement by the Secretary of State that the order needs, by reason of urgency, to be made without the approval required by that subsection.
(7) An order under this section that contains such a statement–
(a) must be laid before Parliament after being made; and
(b) if not approved by a resolution of each House before the end of 40 days beginning with the day on which the order was made, ceases to have effect at the end of that period.
(8) Where an order ceases to have effect in accordance with subsection (7), that does not–
(a) affect anything previously done in reliance on the order; or
(b) prevent the Secretary of State from exercising any power of his to make a new order for the purposes of subsection (3)(b)(ii) to the same or similar effect.
(9) In this section–
“40 days” means 40 days computed as provided for in section 7(1) of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 (c. 36);
“the relevant derogation”, in relation to a derogating control order, means the designated derogation by reference to which the derogating obligations imposed by that order were imposed.
Perhaps it’s meant to deter terrorists, not to convey information about the duration of Control Orders.
Hardly anyone, from either the government or the opposition benches, had a good word to say about the Bill, and many denounced it in the most damning terms that I can remember being used about a piece of legislation submitted by any government for the approval of parliament. And, as reported on the BBC website, “in their first vote on the plans, MPs approved them by 309 votes to 233, despite opposition from the Tories, Lib Dems and 32 Labour rebels”, a government majority of 76. Mr Marshall-Andrews described the Commons chamber in its performance of its principal task of protecting the country against bad legislation and the abuse of power by the executive as ‘Lilliputian’.