Counter-terrorism review - SACC response

10 Years of the War on Terror - SACC responds to Government Review of Counter-Terrorism Powers

SACC says it's time for a re-think

Civil Liberties Group SACC (Scotland Against Criminalising Communities) has today published its contribution to the Government's review of counter-terrorism powers.

SACC's response, entitled Year 10: Six Extraordinary State Powers at the close of the first decade of the war on terror has been sent to the Home Office and a copy has been passed to Lord Macdonald of River Glaven QC, who is overseeing the review. SACC is urging the Government to end the control order regime, scrap the blanket stop and search powers given to police under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, end its reliance on meaningless "diplomatic assurances" to excuse deporting people to countries where they could face torture, and drastically reduce the 28 day period for which terrorism suspects can be held without charge.

SACC is also calling for an overhaul of the covert surveillance powers given to local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and to local authorities in Scotland under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act. This legislation was introduced to deal with terrorism and serious crime, but has led to local authorities spying on people to deal with issues like smoking and anti-social behaviour.

SACC points out that it is over 10 years since the Terrorism Act 2000 became law and says that, while the Government's current limited review of counter-terrorism powers is welcome, a comprehensive review is long overdue.

Richard Haley, chair of SACC, says:

"We've had a decade of draconian legislation that has thrown away hard-won rights and liberties in the name of fighting terror. The anti-terror laws are part and parcel of a policy on terrorism that has dragged Britain into disastrous US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's time for a re-think. If the new Government scraps each of the six excessive anti-terror powers that it has asked the review to look at, it will have taken a small but decisive step towards closing a shameful chapter in Britain's history. Draconian anti-terror laws are counter-productive as well as being unfair and guaranteed to produce miscarriages of justice."

The Government has until January to decide what it will do about the controversial police power to detain terrorism suspects for up to 28 days without charge. This power, introduced by Tony Blair in 2005, has each year until 2010 been renewed by Parliament for a further 12 months. But in July this year Parliament renewed the power for just 6 months, on the understanding that the Government would soon be putting forward new proposals.

The terms of reference for the Government review of counter-terrorism and security powers were announced on 29 July. The review was asked to focus on six key powers. Members of the public and interested organisations were invited to send contributions to the Home Office.

Read SACC's full response:
Year 10: Six Extraordinary State Powers at the close of the first decade of the war on terror (pdf)

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Executive Summary: SACC's Response to the Coalition Government's Review of Counter-Terrorism and Security Powers 2010

The Review

  • SACC welcomes the review but regrets that, under its terms of reference, it falls well short of being a comprehensive review of counter-terrorism and security powers.

Control Orders (including alternatives)

  • Control orders should be abolished; the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 should be repealed.
  • Alternative measures are neither necessary nor desirable, except in relation to individuals reasonably suspected of posing a direct physical threat to the public.
  • Where individuals are reasonably suspected of posing a direct physical threat to the public but cannot be charged with a criminal offence, the danger they pose should be managed by precautionary policing and intelligence work under existing powers.
  • It should not be assumed that people currently under control orders can be reasonably suspected of posing a direct physical threat to the public.
  • No confidence can be placed in the capacity of the security and intelligence services to make a meaningful and fair assessment of the risk posed by individuals under circumstances of the sort covered by control orders.
  • Reparations should be made to people whose human rights were violated by control orders.

Section 44 Stop and Search Powers and the use of Terrorism Legislation in Relation to Photography

  • Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 should be repealed. Blanket stop and search powers are unnecessary, counter-productive and open to discriminatory use. Existing police powers to stop and search people where there are reasonable grounds for suspicion are more than sufficient.
  • Any legislation capable of being used to restrict the right to photograph police officers is open to abuse and may lead to the suppression of evidence about other police abuses, especially during demonstrations and protests.
  • Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which police have used to threaten photographers with prosecution, should be repealed, as should Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008, which extends the scope of Section 58, and Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which could be used in similar ways to Section 57. All these powers are much too widely drawn.

The use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) by local authorities and access to communications data more generally

  • Directed surveillance (covert monitoring) and the use of covert human intelligence sources (informers and undercover agents) by local authorities should not be permitted. These forms of covert surveillance are severe infringements of the right to privacy and are only appropriate in relation to serious offences. Where local authorities suspect people of serious offences, they should pass their information to the police for investigation.
  • Powers to access communications data by all public bodies, including the law enforcement agencies and the security and intelligence services, should be subject to prior judicial authorisation.
  • The grounds on which access to communications data may be granted should be tightened.
  • Britain should urge the EU to drop the EU Data Retention Directives, which require Communication Service Providers to retain data that they collect.
  • Part 11 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, dealing with the retention of communications data, should be repealed.

Extending the use of ‘Deportation with Assurances’ in a manner that is consistent with our legal and human rights obligations

  • People should not be deported to countries where they would be at risk of torture.
  • A diplomatic note promising that a deportee will be safe from torture, issued by a country known to practice torture, can never be an adequate assurance that the deportee and their family will be safe. The only adequate assurance of safety is a clean track-record on torture within the destination country coupled with a proven record of effective implementation of the provisions of the UN Convention Against Torture and with due regard for any special circumstances that put the deportee at risk of torture or ill-treatment.
  • Legislation should be introduced to make diplomatic notes inadmissible as evidence of safety from torture.
  • Secret evidence should not be admissible in deportation hearings.
  • Britain should work towards a torture-free world by withdrawing or reducing cooperation in policing, law-enforcement and intelligence with countries that practice torture.
  • Irrespective of the risk of torture, the deportation of foreign nationals on national security grounds is normally undesirable. Such deportations are arbitrary, discriminatory and even if well-founded they are unlikely to lessen the risk from international terrorism. Foreign nationals suspected of terrorism should be charged and brought to court.

Measures to deal with organisations that promote hatred or violence

  • Police should make use of existing legislation to deal with behaviour that incites hatred or violence.
  • New powers to proscribe organisations that are thought to promote hatred or violence are unnecessary and would be counter-productive.
  • Sections 1, 2 and 21 of the Terrorism Act 2006, which extend the power to proscribe organisations under the Terrorism Act 2000 to include organisations that do not engage in violence or terrorism but are considered to encourage it, should be repealed.
  • There is no case for banning the Islamic political party Hizb-ut-Tahrir, on these or any other grounds.

The detention of terrorist suspects before charge, including how we can reduce the period of detention below 28 days

  • The legislation covering pre-charge detention in terrorism cases should be repealed, allowing precharge detention for terrorism suspects to revert to that permitted in other criminal cases. The ending of excessive pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects would be a powerful sign that Britain can deal with terrorism within the ordinary framework of the law and would give new confidence to our minority communities.

Powers to Freeze Terrorist Assets

  • Current powers to freeze terrorist assets are unjust and oppressive and need urgent reform

Equality Impact

  • Control orders, Section 44 Stop and Search Powers, and the use of terrorism legislation in relation to photography have all had specific negative impacts on equality. The repeal of these powers would be a step towards restoring the equal enjoyment by all of democratic rights and freedoms.
  • Changes in the law are required in order to guarantee adequate and equal protection from torture for everyone living in Britain.

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