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Last Updated: Monday, 2 February, 2004, 13:06 GMT
Q&A: Tougher terror laws
Terror attack exercise
Britain has so far escaped a major al-Qaeda attack
As David Blunkett considers tougher new terrorism laws, BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw looks at the issues.

Q: How would the changes affect trials of terror suspects?

Trials of UK citizens suspected of terrorism offences could take place in secret in front of security-vetted judges. The defendants would be represented by specially-appointed lawyers, who would not be able to disclose the details of sensitive evidence to anyone else.

The burden of proof could be lowered so that it would be enough for a judge to be satisfied on the "balance of probabilities" that a suspect was guilty, rather than being satisfied "beyond all reasonable doubt", as is the case now.

Q: Why is David Blunkett proposing these legal changes?

He wants to ensure that terror suspects - particularly suicide bombers - are prevented from carrying out attacks. He's concerned that the current rules are not flexible enough to enable that to happen. By allowing more intelligence material to be admissible in such cases, convictions would be easier to obtain.

There have been cases where prosecutions against people suspected of terrorism have failed because the evidential hurdles needed to obtain a conviction were too high.

Q: Can't terror suspects already be held indefinitely in the UK? The only terror suspects who can be held without trial are foreign nationals, under the 2001 Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act. These powers will lapse or have to be renewed in 2006, so Mr Blunkett is keen to replace them with new laws which would also enable the authorities to deal more effectively with British terror suspects.

Q: How many suspects in the UK might be covered by the new laws?

It's almost impossible to tell. It depends how any new laws are drawn up, but potentially, hundreds could be affected. Since the 11 September attacks in America in 2001, there have been more than 500 terrorism arrests in the UK. Police have charged 90 of those with terrorism offences, while 100 were charged with other crimes.

Q: Why are some lawyers opposing Mr Blunkett's plans?

Because they believe innocent people will be convicted of crimes on the basis of unreliable intelligence. They're concerned about the wider implications - that the move to secret trials and a lower criminal standard of proof represents a fundamental assault on civil liberties.

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