A committee of privy councillors set up by parliament to review the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 has recommended that the government's power to detain non-British terrorism suspects without trial should be scrapped. The committee's report will be debated in the House of Commons on Wednesday 25 February 2004.
The committee, chaired by Lord Newton, was set up in response to a decision taken by Parliament when the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act was passed in November 2001. Their report heads its conclusions with the words:
"Terrorists are criminals, and therefore ordinary criminal justice and security provisions should, as far as possible, continue to be the preferred way of countering terrorism."
This is to be welcomed. But many of the committee's conclusions flatly contradict its primary conclusion. The report accepts the government's assessment of the terrorist threat to the UK without any serious analysis, it refuses to acknowledge the racism implicit in the UK's anti-terrorism legislation, and it takes no account of the effect of this legislation on the cultural and political life of minority communities in the UK. It confines its review to the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, even though this Act is little more than an amendment to the Terrorism Act 2000 and makes no sense when considered in isolation from the earlier Act. It treats the word "terrorism" as if it had its common-sense meaning, even though the Terrorism Act 2000 redefines "terrorism" to include previously-legitimate political activity.
The committee's report is nevertheless strongly critical of many provisions of the Act. In particular, it says:
"We strongly recommend that the powers which allow foreign nationals to be detained potentially indefinitely should be replaced as a matter of urgency. New legislation should
(a) deal with all terrorism, whatever its origin or the nationality of its suspected perpetrators; and
(b) "not require a derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights."
Report of the ATCSA Review Committee (pdf document)
CAMPACC submission to the review - essential reading
SACC will continue to argue that the best - indeed the only - way to implement the committee's primary conclusion is to repeal the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Ant-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. But we also believe that the power to detain foreign nationals indefinitely is the most outrageous of the provisions of these Acts. The recommendation that this power should be scrapped is the strongest, clearest and most urgent of the conclusions of the ATCSA 2001 Review, and we call on Parliament to implement it without delay.