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Sunday, 11 November, 2001, 15:44 GMT
Tougher terror laws challenged
Recovery workers at Ground Zero
The move is in response to the US terror attacks
Civil rights campaigners have said they will challenge in the European courts government plans to detain terrorist suspects without trial.

The emergency powers will be targeted at foreign nationals suspected of terrorism who cannot currently be deported under existing immigration laws.

The move is part of the government's response to the 11 September attacks in the United States.

But while it has Conservative Party support, civil rights group Liberty's human rights litigation unit will challenge the proposed new legislation.


We already have some of the strictest counter terrorist laws in the Western world

Mark Littlewood Liberty

Liberty described the move as "a fundamental violation of the rule of law".

Mark Littlewood, director of campaigns at Liberty, told the BBC: "The minute you start detaining people without trial then you are taking a very big leap away from some of the most precious civil liberties and freedoms that we hold dear in this country.

"If we believe in a liberal civilised society, then making sure that you are not simply thrown in a cell and the key thrown away without your case being heard in front of a court is a very fundamental basic right and I am disappointed the Home Secretary is seeking to depart from that," Mr Littlewood added.

"If we have evidence against suspected terrorists, let's bring them in front of a court of law," he said.

"We already have some of the strictest counter terrorist laws in the Western world," Mr Littlewood continued.

Home Secretary David Blunkett
David Blunkett wants measures adopted swiftly

"If we want to win this war, we are just going to have to be cleverer and smarter about how we track down terrorists rather than bringing in these enormous blanket, vast attacks on civil liberties, which it isn't clear to me are actually going to help us track down these criminals."

On Monday, Home Secretary David Blunkett will lay an order before the House of Commons to enable Britain to temporarily opt out of article five of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Article five of the Convention guarantees the right to liberty and prohibits detention without trial.

But article 15 of the Convention allows governments to revoke article five in times of war or other "public emergency".

'Very limited circumstances'

The emergency legislation, which will have to be approved by Parliament, is expected to cover the duration of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Under Home Office plans, detention without trial would apply in "very limited circumstances".

Mr Blunkett said it would probably apply to "dozens" of people.

The legislation would enable suspects who refused deportation to a third country to be detained for up to six months subject to appeal - but would require annual ratification by Parliament, he added.


We certainly will support anything which is going to help the fight against terrorism

Michael Ancram Shadow foreign secretary

Sources say the measure will not mean that all foreigners suspected of terrorism can be detained without trial.

Rather it will be targeted at those who cannot be deported back to their country of origin because they come from repressive regimes, such as Afghanistan or Iraq.

Shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said his party "certainly will support anything which is going to help the fight against terrorism".

But the Liberal Democrats Home Affairs Spokesman, Simon Hughes, told BBC News: "It should be the last resort and only the last resort that you hold somebody beyond what would normally be acceptable under both British and international law.

"We have to make sure not only is it for the minimum period necessary - but most importantly that everybody who can be tried and prosecuted or deported to a safe third country is given those options," he added.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Some civil liberties will be eroded"
Michael Ancram, Shadow Foreign Secretary
"We will generally support anything which produces a common sense solution"
Andrew Holden, Charter 88 democracy campaign group
"This will discriminate against foreign nationals"

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Are new terror laws justified?

Yes
 55.21% 

No
 44.79% 

5671 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

15 Oct 01 | UK Politics
UK anti-terror measures unveiled
20 Sep 01 | UK Politics
EU must act fast on terror - Blunkett
26 Sep 01 | UK Politics
UK to review extradition measures
28 Sep 01 | Business
Net closes on terror cash
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