Just how big is the threat to our country, and does it justify the erosion of some basic civil liberties? I’m not convinced.
Charles Clarke is desperately trying to rush his bill through Parliament this week; it’s supposed to protect us from future terrorist attacks. He’s already backtracked on the key issue that it should be a judge, not a politician, that enforces the new house arrests. But the Home Secretary will still get wide-ranging new powers and, I suppose, we’re just supposed to trust him.
There’s no doubt that there is a terrorist threat facing us. But organised terror is not new – the IRA organised attacks on London during the 70s were very similar and didn’t lead government to undermine the basic right of a fair trial before detention.
I don’t think the government has ever really explained exactly why it needs to do this. The last time I checked, conspiring to commit acts of terrorism already is a crime, with those responsible facing a prison sentence. If the evidence is not strong enough to bring them to trial, well then, the evidence can’t be strong enough to put them under house arrest can it? Don’t forget – this evidence – which would be hidden from the accused – would be brought to you by the same intelligence services that told you there were WMDs in Iraq.
We’re also told of the need to ‘act quickly’ in case these people are on the verge of fleeing the country or planting a bomb. Even if you accept this argument – what is to stop the police arresting them quickly and then bringing them to trial? I wouldn’t object to them put under house arrest for a short while before this happened, but that isn’t what is being proposed.
Personally, I am virtually certain that at some point or another, there will be a terrorist attack on Britain. This does not scare me, and I live in London. A chance of dying is nothing new – and I’m still much more likely to be run over than murdered by a mad shoe-bomber on a plane. Whatever powers the government gives itself, it is never going to be able to get it right 100% of the time.
So – we’ll still have the threat of terrorist attack, but now we’ll also have the threat of our liberties being taken away at any moment by a judge or home secretary, without being told why. And don’t forget, some people imprisoned at Belmarsh have now walked free. Were they innocent all along? Or are they still dangerous terrorists but can’t be trialled because there isn’t any evidence?
If you trust the home secretary, and all future ones from all future governments, with the help of the intelligence services, to be able to guess who will commit a crime before they’ve even happened, support this bill. But if you’re not so sure, oppose the measures and support the tried and tested “innocent, before proven guilty”.
© Ruberyvillage.co.uk 1999 – 2005. We bite; don’t mess.