UK parliamentary committee critical of new terrorism Bill

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Critical reports on proposed UK Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill
- Joint Committee on Human Rights Report
- Liberty briefing

The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, comprised of MPs and Lords, has issued a report which is highly critical of the government's proposed Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. The Committee's findings include:

On derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights:

"Having considered the Home Secretary's evidence carefully, we recognise that there may be evidence of the existence of a public emergency threatening the life of the nation, although none was shown by him to this Committee. As no court in this country will be able to decide whether the derogation is justified against the criteria of Article 15 of the ECHR, it is especially important for each House to decide whether they are satisfied of the existence of a public emergency threatening the life of the nation. But even if it is accepted that there is such an emergency, the lack of safeguards built into the Bill, particularly in relation to detention powers, causes us to doubt whether the measures in the Bill can be said to be strictly required by the exigencies of the situation."

On definition of terrrorist activity:

[to include] "people who have 'links with' terrorist groups or with those connected with such groups seems to us potentially over-inclusive. We are aware of no other legislation in the United Kingdom which authorizes detention on the basis of a criterion as vague as the person's 'links with' other people or groups. The Bill does not in any way define the notion of such links.

We examined the Home Secretary in oral evidence on the case for including the provision of clause 21(2)(c) relating to terrorist links in the Bill.[30] His answers did not persuade us that the risk of arbitrariness in its application could be avoided in practice. We therefore draw this matter to the attention of each House."

On extending powers to fingerprint:

"we are not persuaded that it is proportionate to treat all immigrants' fingerprints as being on a par with the fingerprints of those detained by the police. It seems to us to risk stigmatizing immigrants who have no criminal connections. The provision has no clear connection with terrorism or security. We recommend that the provisions should be reconsidered, and draw them to the attention of each House."

On extending police powers:

"We regard the provisions relating to police powers contained in clauses 88 to 92 of the Bill as being in need of additional safeguards and mature consideration, and accordingly draw them to the attention of each House.

We consider that the measures relating to the powers of police to remove face coverings should be subjected to the most careful scrutiny on human rights grounds"

On extending the role of the Ministry of Defence Police and others:

"Until the extent to which the safeguards surrounding the procedures of Home Office police forces will apply to the Ministry of Defence Police, the British Transport Police, and the Atomic Energy Authority special constables in their new functions is clarified, we are unable to be confident that the Bill provides adequate safeguards against abuse of or interference in human rights"

On the need to require communications providers to retain data:

"There is no express limit to the scope of the powers. They could be used to secure highly sensitive data for the purpose of investigating very minor offences, or even for monitoring people's communications without any ground for suspecting them of any offence or of threatening national security. We note that as the Bill as presently drafted, the Code of Practice relating to the retention of communications data will not be subject to any parliamentary procedure. We also have in mind that a Code of Practice may be used as evidence in courts and tribunals, and that a direction given by a Secretary of State may give rise to legal obligations. In the light of these factors, we consider that measures should be put in place to ensure that the Code of Practice and any directions are compatible with the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence under Article 8 of the ECHR, and that those measures should be specified, so far as practicable, on the face of the legislation."

The Committee's report concludes:

"We have concluded that, on the evidence available to us, the balance between freedom and security in the Bill before us has not always been struck in the right place. In particular, although we recognise the dilemma from which the Home Secretary sought to free himself by recourse to the derogation from Article 5, we are not persuaded that the circumstances of the present emergency or the exigencies of the current situation meet the tests set out in Article 15 of the ECHR. It is now for Parliament to draw its own conclusions, and for Members of both Houses to satisfy themselves that there are adequate safeguards to protect the rights of the individual citizen against abuse of these powers ."

1. The UK parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights initial report: Joint Committee on Human Rights
2. Liberty briefing on the Bill for the 2nd reading in House of Commons: Liberty briefing

"Anti-terrorism, crime and security Bill": full-text is in the following "pdf" file: Anti-terrorism Bill
or you can go to the House of Commons page to download as "pdf" file: Anti-terrorism Bill

For full background analysis and full-text documentation on post-11 September reactions in the EU which affect civil liberties please see: Statewatch's Observatory: In defence of freedom and democracy

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