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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 May, 2003, 21:15 GMT 22:15 UK
Terror laws 'attack civil liberties'

By Ben Davies
BBC News Online politics staff

Anti-terror legislation introduced by the government has done more to attack people in Britain than defend them from terrorists, according to leading QC Mike Mansfield.

The campaigning lawyer told a packed room in the House of Lords that using the atrocities in the US as an excuse, the government had effectively declared war on Britons' civil liberties.

Speaking at a meeting of the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) Mr Mansfield said legislation allowed people on the say of Home Secretary David Blunkett to be detained without trial.

Mike Mansfield QC
Mr Mansfield is a veteran campaigner

"What Blunkett is now doing is not just depriving liberty, it's depriving identity, the citizenship ... of those he deems to be not conducive to the public good," said Mr Mansfield.

He then went on to attack last week's home affairs select committee report which argued that failures on asylum policy could lead to unrest and political extremism in Britain.

He said the report "feeds fuel into the flames already strongly burning that asylum seekers are already the root of all evil".

He added: "'We cannot cope because it's not just the numbers - it's the nature of the people coming'.

"That's really what they are saying!"

Criminality?

"What they are trying to say is that the asylum seeker is bogus, that the asylum seeker is the seat of criminality, the asylum seeker is ultimately the potential terrorist.

"That eventually becomes equated with members of the Muslim community which is why they feel at the moment - whatever lip service is paid by Mr Blair and others - that they are in fact pariahs on society."

David Blunkett
Mr Blunkett has introduced a raft of anti-terror legislation

Mr Mansfield said it was important that people came together in solidarity to send out the message "an attack on anyone here under the terrorism act is an attack on all of us".

CAMPACC founder Stephanie Harrison criticised the Terrorism Act 2000, which predates 11 September, in particular the definitions and increased police powers to detain suspects.

T-shirt ban?

Since then, she argued, the Home Office has used the legislation to ban groups and then prosecute people on the grounds of links to those organisations - even just for carrying a placard or wearing a T-shirt on a demonstration.

"We see it as the culmination of a decade of attacks on refugees and asylum seekers to live freely in this country," she said.

"The so-called war on terror is being used to take away fundamental civil liberties that took centuries to establish."

Another speaker - lawyer Gareth Pierce - described how her work took her to the high security police station at Paddington Green in London where she represents people detained under the anti-terror legislation.

She described the war on terror as a "completely false emergency" a "construct" of the US and UK governments which was being used to undermine "absolutely fundamental rights" in Britain.




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