Terror bill inadequate

Police are likely to need more than 28 days to detain someone without charge as the nature of the terror threat changes, an influential committee of MPs says.

However, while 28 days “may well prove inadequate”, the 90 days that the government and police argued for is not essential, according to the home affairs committee.

With the combined effect of increased use of computer decryption, forensic inquiries, and an increase in the number of preventative arrests the current 14-day limit on detention before charges are brought is being stretched, the committee reports.

“Current and recent investigations have gone sufficiently close to 14 days to show that an extension of the maximum period of pre-charge detention [to 28 days], as agreed by parliament, is justified,” the report states.

As to how long suspects should be held – a matter that split parliament and brought about Tony Blair’s first Commons defeat – the committee is less clear.

“None of the evidence we have reviewed of current and recent investigations would have justified a maximum detention period longer than 28 days,” it said.

“But the growing number of cases and the increase in suspects monitored by the police and security services make it entirely possible, and perhaps increasingly likely, that there will be cases that do provide that justification.

“We believe, therefore, that the 28 day limit may well prove inadequate in the future. We have seen no evidence that a maximum of 90 days pre-charge detention is essential, rather than useful.”

The committee also heavily criticised the government for the way that it handled itself during the passage of the terrorism bill through parliament.

“The process of the terrorism bill through parliament was divisive and did not increase public trust in the police or the government,” it said.

“We conclude that on such a major issue, with very significant human rights implications, we would have expected the case made by the police to have been better developed and, while we think it is reasonable for the prime minister and home secretary to rely on advice from the police on such issues, we would also expect them to have challenged critically that advice in order to assure themselves of the case that was being made.

“In our view the primary origin of the difficulties experienced by the government lies in the lack of care with which the case for a maximum 90 day detention period was promoted.”