Britain: Top cop calls for new assault on civil liberties

July 20, 2007

The head of Britain's Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has called for police to be given the power to imprison "terror suspects" indefinitely without charge.

The July 15 Observer reported that Ken Jones, ACPO's president, told the paper "that in some cases there was a need to hold terrorist suspects without charge for as long as it takes" and that "such hardline measures were the only way to counter the complex, global nature of terrorist cells planning further attacks". The article reported that according to Jones, "civil liberty arguments were untenable in the light of the evolving terror threat".

In 2005, a proposal to give police the power to detain suspects without charge for up to 90 days resulted in then prime minister Tony Blair's first defeat in the House of Commons. Blair was forced to agree to the current limit of 28 days. According to the July 16 Morning Star, this is "already the longest period of pre-charge detention in any Western country, including the United States".

The Star continued: "The matter was reportedly discussed in meetings between Prime Minister Gordon Brown and senior police officers. The new Premier, who has already signalled his desire to extend the draconian 28-day limit, is believed to be supportive of the proposals."

Jones's demand for the police to be granted the power of unlimited detention was condemned by left-wing politicians and civil liberties groups. Left-wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn told the Star that "It would create another Guantanamo Bay. This is political campaigning by ACPO. It's not their job to propose legislation and they should remember the role of police in a democratic society."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil liberties group Liberty, told the Observer, "It is coming to the point where we have to ask serious questions about the role of ACPO in a constitutional democracy. We elect politicians to determine legislation and we expect chief constables to uphold the rule of law, not campaign for internment."

An Amnesty International spokesperson told the Morning Star: "The right to be promptly charged is the dividing line between liberty and arbitrary detention. Indefinite detention violates the right to liberty and the right to be presumed innocent."

The proposal was also attacked by politicians from the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats. A spokesperson from the Stop the War Coalition argued that the police "seem to be driving to grant themselves more powers. They should stay out of political debates."

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