John West - Labour supporter and journalist

Currently living in Paris, I'm a Labour member, activist and freelance journalist. I'll be writing mostly about missed opportunities, as I see them, and the necessity to rebuild Labour as a cohesive movement. We mustn't lose sight of reality, but we should sometimes challenge it.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Anti terror legislation

Sorry to start on something so serious, but here goes. This is what I submitted to the Compass think-tank emergency consultation on the anti-terror legislation:

This bill is ill-thought out, rushed, illiberal, counter prductive and -
perhaps most baffling of all of all - unnecessary. With the single
exception of creating the offence of "acts preparatory to terrorism",
which is clearly a no-brainer and opposed by precisely no-one, the
offenses and powers laid out in the bill have the effect of unsettling the
fine and honed balance of our legal values, doing the terrorists' job for
them - we ARE destroying our way of life.

The 14 day period has been in force for less than a year. The case the
police have made is clear: they need more time to assess information
before they can charge. But to extend the period to 90 days is an affront.
It makes a mockery of the presumption of innocence. Moreover, the
inability to question after charge, the possibility of holding on lesser
charges and the inadmissible nature of intercept evidence should have been
put before parliament before anyone thinks of tampering with habeas
corpus. It is *not* the job of parliament to rubber stamp requests from
the police. They are just one input into a debate where the advice of
lawyers, civil rights campaigners and ordinary citizens have equal claim.
I am the hypothetical person you are trying to protect - but this bill
will not make me feel safer.

The attempt to prohibit the encouragement or glorification of terrorism is
truly laughable. Quite apart from the practical fact that campaigners will
test case this through the courts till - shock horror - the HRA is found
to be in almost complete contradiction - forcing *another* humiliating
rush to legislate, this is thought-crime pure and simple. As abhorent as
the praise of terrorist acts may be, the banning of it will in no way
endear the society doing the banning to the communities from which the
dissent comes. If the moral argument against thought-crime doesn't stir
you, then there are plentiful other reasons to throw out this measure. For
a start the definitions - both of terrorism and encouragement and
glorification - are so broad as to be utterly permeable in the face of clever defence:
there will never be a successful prosecution. But that won't stop people
worrying of falling fowl of this new law, which will stymie debate and the
pronouncements of those of us who are not pacifists and may - in
exceptional circumstances - even support tactical, citizen-based, violence
in the pursuit of democracy in the face of oppressive regimes. It was
pointed out with admirable precision in the Home Affairs select committee
that this measure - as it stands, and this point in no way takes a view on
the issue used in the example - would not prohibit the support of a state
sponsored invasion of Iraq, but would illegalise the active support of
Iraqis themselves using violence to unseat Saddam Hussein. This is a

This does not begin to get to the core of my complaints with the clauses
in the bill. I am not an interested party, beyond my membership of Labour
and the citizenry of the UK - have no membership of civil rights groups,
etc. This bill, if passed wthout significant ammendment, ensures my fear.
The government - not the terrorists - are terrifying me. Where, if not
under this government - but under another, will this end? When encription
takes longer than 90 days (which it does anyway), will we hold people for
a year? Two years? Those who argue that it's different in Europe fail in
their analysis to point out that, with investigating prosecutors and
different code, the *whole legal system is different*. Propose wholesale
reform of the entire legal system, then - maybe - get back to me. That
won't happen this week, and I guess never, because we like British justice
as it is.

I might add, if my arguments have really not got through, that this stuff
will lose you your seat. There's a lot of you who only need a few
exploited, but genuinely angry, Labour voters to protest vote Lib Dem to
let in the Tories. The voters won't be responsible, you will - and you'll
have lost your job. No terror legislation, however wide-ranging and
repressive, can prevent terrorism, so why demolish the founding principles
of our justice system to look tough? The real tough decision is to stay
firm in upholding our beliefs - please do this now in amending the bill.


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