Detention without trial, house arrest and a very strange release (updated 11 Feb 05)

The home secretary proposes to swap his powers to imprison foreigners indefinitely and without trial if he suspects them of involvement in terrorism, for new powers to put anyone, including British citizens, under house arrest and to impose all sorts of other restrictions on their liberties, the greatest expansion of the power of the state over its citizens in peacetime for centuries.

An Egyptian detainee who had been in prison without trial for over three years on suspicion of terrorism was suddenly released unconditionally on 31 January 2005, with virtually no explanation. Read my Guardian article of 8 February here, and a fuller analysis here (3 February) of the background to this strange development and its possible implications, including the text (oddly hard to find on the Web) of the home secretary’s statement on the release and key extracts from the previous judgments of the Special Immigration Commission upholding the original decisions to imprison him and keep him locked up.

What does this mean for the home secretary’s house arrest proposals? Already they are running into serious difficulty. On 28 January 2005 the Guardian published an earlier article of mine setting out the reasons for rejecting these draconian proposals (click here to read it) and The Times published a letter from me expressing similar outrage (click here to read it).

Both the article and the letter on my website include links to all the main documents and other websites mentioned. It looks increasingly as if the government is beginning to realise that the Clarke house arrest proposals are unsustainable as they stand. If you agree, please write to or e-mail your MP urging him/her to insist, when the government’s (probably revised) proposals are eventually put to parliament, that only the courts, not the home secretary or any other politician, should have the power if necessary to deprive anyone of their liberty, following a trial by a judge and jury to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that there are adequate grounds for doing so. Nothing less will do.


5 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    The executive proposes that draconian measures are required since “the fabric of the nation is under threat�. What kind of attack could constitute such a threat, I ask myself?
    1 The Sept 11 outrage with 3000 dead cannot be said to have threatened the fabric of the USA
    2 The Tsunami killed more than 100,000 dead in Indonesia but no one suggests that Indonesia is about to disappear as a country.
    3 The massing of German troops on the Channel coast in 1939 certainly did threaten the fabric of the nation.
    It seems to me that the only contemporary threat that could possibly have this level of risk associated with it would be the detonation of one or more H –Bomb’s (but not N Bombs) any where in the UK (or indeed Northern Europe). Is anyone really suggesting that any terror organisation has access to this technology? Not as far as I am aware. The proposal at hand is terrible and justified on entirely bogus grounds.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Dear Brian,

    You could well be right about C. The open judgment on him, though i know that there may be better secret evidence, does not onvince that he poses any great danger. And today’s case (of G) does suggest, do you think, that SIAC is taking a more robust attitude. Unless it is just that the HO feels obliged out of a kind of solidarity to run any case put up by their spooks. Another possible reason for C’s release is that he may have been “helpful”.


  3. Brian says:

    I very much agree with both Matt’s and Ronnie’s interesting comments. The suggestion that the whole fabric of the nation is at risk from international terrorism is ludicrous. The state of emergency declared by the government in order to be able to get its opt-out from the provisions of the European Human Rights Convention guaranteeing no detention without trial (an opt-out quashed as unwarranted by the law lords in December)is similarly quite unnecessary, and in my view not consistent with European Court decisions defining the circumstances in which such an emergency may be declared: there must be a threat to the life of the whole nation (there isn’t) and there must be a crisis of limited duration (ministers say the terrorist threat will not be defeated for many years, if at all). Unfortunately the law lords declined, with explicit reluctance, to strike down the state of emergency on the grounds that the government alone was equipped by the information available to it to make that decision, although clearly they were extremely uneasy about it, with every justification.

    The government constantly talks up the alleged threat from terrorism, for two reasons: because it’s necessary for the justification of the raft of illiberal police-state measures they are rushing to enact while the going’s good; and because they are terrified that if and when there actually is a terrorist attack in Britain, they will be accused of not having taken the threat seriously enough (as Blair himself naively admitted during prime ministers’ questions last Wednesday). There’s no penalty attached to exaggerating the threat, whereas there could be a penalty attached to being open to the charge of having underestimated it. All governments need a threat to maintain the solidarity of society and public acceptance of government power: re-read Orwell. Communism served this need well after WWII until its collapse in 1989 (anyway in Europe). Terrorism has taken its place.

    I also agree with Ronnie that SIAC seems to be more willing to use such teeth as it still possesses than hitherto, probably emboldened by the law lords’ judgment of December and perhaps enraged by Charles Clarke’s proposals for trying to get round it by means of yet more illiberal and probably illegal methods. It’s interesting to look at the case of ‘G’ (referred to by Ronnie) in which SIAC yesterday rejected Clarke’s attempt to return G to jail for breaching his bail conditions by receiving forbidden visitors (a breach denied by G and found to be unproven by SIAC), after SIAC had allowed G to be released into conditional house arrest because of the effects on his mental health of his indefinite imprisonment at Belmarsh. This is a stinging rebuke to the home secretary and the security service, convicted of being unable to prove their allegation about the forbidden visitors to the level required by SIAC. The idea that the home office and the home secretary may be reluctant to refuse to act on security service allegations and recommendations out of a sense of solidarity, or the need for it, is all too plausible.

    I’m intrigued too by the suggestion that Clarke may have released C as a sort of reward for being ‘helpful’, although the coincidence of the timing of the release just hours before SIAC was due to review C’s case for the first time since the law lords’ judgment seems to me to offer the likeliest explanation.

    Postscript: now see article (by guess who) in today’s (Tuesday 8 Feb) Law Guardian about the implications of C’s release. Remember, you read it here first! It’s at,3605,1408124,00.html.

    Keep on commenting!


  4. Anonymous says:


    You may be interested in these articles in the New Yorker
    hereand New York Times

    and here


  5. Anonymous says:

    …oh and just as an afterthought
    you are probably already aware
    of the scandalous new extradition
    arrangements with the US..if
    not you may wish to read this Rgds