MPs probe terror detention plans

Plans to give police powers to hold terror suspects for up to 90 days without trial will come under scrutiny by a committee of MPs, it has been announced.

The Commons home affairs committee will look at the strength of the arguments put forward by the government and police to justify extending the detention period from its current limit of two weeks.

MPs voted against the plans to introduce a 90-day limit during a vote in the Commons earlier this month, opting instead to extend the period to 28 days, and include sunset clause in the legislation so it would have to be re-debated in a year’s time.

The defeat was the government’s first since coming to power in 1997, and an indication of the strength of feeling surrounding the proposals, which are contained in the government’s new terrorism bill.

Ministers argued that police needed the extra detention powers to give them time to gather what in terrorism cases is often highly complex computer evidence, scattered across a number of countries.

But many MPs had major concerns about the impact such powers would have on civil liberties, and in particular, the disproportionate effect they could have on ethnic minorities in Britain.

The home affairs committee will look at the government’s proposed safeguards – police would have to argue their case for further detention before a senior judge at regular intervals – and also at alternatives to this detention.

These could include providing more resources to the police and intelligence services, bringing lesser charges against terrorist suspects to enable them to be held in custody while the major investigation proceeds, and the use of tagging, surveillance or control orders.

In addition, the MPs will consider whether wire-taps could be used in court. The government has said it is in favour of this, but has been advised against it by the security services.