Detention without trial: Letter to the Times

From prison to house arrest: out of the frying pan  (2)

Note: This is the text of the lead letter in The Times of 28 January, 2005, following the announcement by the Home Secretary, Charles Clark, on the 26th of proposals for replacing the present law (under which the Home Secretary may keep indefinitely in prison, without trial, non-British nationals whom he suspects of involvement with terrorism) by a new law empowering the Home Secretary to place anyone in the country, British or non-British, under house arrest, and/or to ban him or her from using a mobile phone or the internet, from meeting specified people, from being out of the house after a specified time, etc.  He will also be able to have a suspect electronically tagged.   Also on 28 January the Guardian published my article deploring the government’s proposals (also available on this website).  Hyperlinks on this page have been added.,,59-1459221,00.html


The Times,  January 28, 2005

Clarke’s detention plan ‘goes too far’

From Sir Brian Barder

Sir, Far from remedying the grave defects of the current law permitting indefinite detention without trial of non-British terrorist suspects, the Home Secretary’s proposals for its replacement (report and leading article, January 27) reproduce and extend them.

The proposed banning orders, disagreeably reminiscent of those used in apartheid South Africa, will for the first time extend to all British citizens the Government’s power of indefinite detention without trial, purely on the Home Secretary’s suspicion of involvement in terrorism.

Not all banning orders will necessarily include house arrest: depending on the seriousness of the suspected terrorist involvement, they may just ban internet access, use of a mobile, contact with named individuals, etc. But it’s hard to see how such lesser restrictions could be monitored and enforced unless the suspect is also put under house arrest, and thus prevented from leading a normal life.

Better detained at home or in a Security Service safe house than in Belmarsh, true: but a deprivation of liberty contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights nonetheless. How can this escape the law lords’ rejection of the present law on grounds, not just of discrimination against foreigners, but of being disproportionate to the relevant threat?

Charles Clarke’s manner is moderate and conciliatory, but his proposals are more deeply illiberal and sweeping than anything even his predecessor visited on us. Indeed, David Blunkett himself is on record as admitting that to extend detention without trial to Britons would be so “draconian” as to be “difficult to justify”.

Terrorism poses a threat that may require some compromises with our traditional civil rights, but what is now proposed goes much too far. Parliament and public opinion should insist that no one should be deprived of his liberty, or have his freedoms otherwise curtailed, except after a proper trial and conviction by judge and jury on evidence proved beyond reasonable doubt, if necessary with special rules regarding admissibility and disclosure of sensitive evidence. Anything less represents another victory for terrorism.

Yours sincerely,

(Lay member, Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1998-2004),
20 Victoria Mews, SW18 3PY.
January 27.

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