Brown urges longer terror detention limit

Gordon Brown has today called for an extension in the time terror suspects can be held without charge.

The 28-day limit was only introduced this year, up from 14 days, but the chancellor today said the threat posed by global terrorism meant “we should be prepared” to go beyond this.

“In the past we could think of catching culprits ‘red handed’, in the act of criminality. Today the authorities have to consider whether we can afford to let events move near to that conclusion,” Mr Brown said.

The government tried to introduce a 90-day detention time limit in the latest terrorism bill, but was forced to compromise with 28 days under heavy pressure from opposition parties and its own Labour MPs.

Today Mr Brown accepted concerns about “arbitrary detention” and called for stronger safeguards to protect the rights of the terror suspects.

A judge already has to approve the holding of terror suspects beyond 14 days and suspects can make written representations to the court, but the chancellor said further measures would be needed.

He called for the independent arbiter of terrorism laws, Lord Carlile, to have the “explicit power to look at and report on any case which goes beyond 28 days without charge”. This would then form part of an annual report to parliament, which MPs could debate.

“The concern all of us have is of course the possibility of arbitrary detention – and so procedures have to be put in place to avoid that,” Mr Brown said.

“But the safeguards lie not in measures that make it impossible for police to complete an investigation into terrorist activities.but in ensuring that the rights of a person detained are protected through drawing upon our traditions of impartial judicial oversight and parliamentary accountability.”

He called for an “all-party consensus” on the issue, arguing: “It is difficult for opponents to say that the changed terrorist threat is not serious enough to justify change in our laws.

“To have to minimise the severity of the changes in the world around us to justify the status quo is a disappointing failure of leadership.”

However, Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell said: “[Mr Brown] is wrong to believe that a longer detention time will be effective or acceptable. The Liberal Democrats will oppose 90-day detention proposals if they are brought back by the government.”

And the director of human rights group Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, added: “The chancellor’s speech contains neither new thinking nor additional comfort.

“There is already judicial and parliamentary oversight in the existing regime which is no substitute for charges and evidence.

“Ninety days is equivalent to a six-month prison sentence without even being charged or tried. Terrorist recruiters will rub their hands with glee.”