UK/Belmarsh: Committee of senior parliamentarians calls for Britain's "Guantanamo Bay" to be scrapped as "a matter of urgency"

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A committee of senior parliamentarians - on the Privy Council Review Committee - have produced a 120-page report on the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and called for end to the indefinite internment of 14 people in the Belmarsh high security prison in London - known as "Britain's Guantanamo Bay". Most have been held since the autumn of 2001 and because there is not sufficient evidence to bring them before a court they are being held in jail - they do have the option to leave the country which two have done. The committee says that these powers should be replaced "as a matter of urgency"

Full-text of the Privy Counsellor Review Committee: Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act Review: Report (pdf)

The committee's report says that other countries have not found it necessary to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and "we have found no obvious reason why the UK should be an exception" and goes on to conclude:

"We were surprised to learn that the authorities appear to have given no thought to what change in circumstances might lead them to conclude that an individual should be released or dealt with differently... From the evidence we have received, we are concerned that there has not been a sufficiently pro-active, focused, case management approach to determining whether any particular suspected international terrorist should continue to be detained under Part Four [of the ATCS 2001].. nor did it appear that alternative ways of dealing with them were under active consideration"

The committee argues that these suspects should "be prosecuted under normal criminal law whenever possible", if necessary by making changes in the law to allow telecommunications interceptions (eg: phone-tap recording) to be used in court.

The committee also records that only foreign nationals can be detained indefinitely without trial in Belmarsh prison, whereas "the threat from UK citizens is real.. we have been told that, of the people of interest to the authorities because of their suspected involvement in international terrorism, nearly half are British citizens".

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, responded immediately to reject the recommendation. He said that:

"I am not convinced that the current threat leaves us with any option but to continue to use these powers... These were not powers I assumed lightly. I have never pretended that they are ideal, but I firmly believe that they are currently the best and most workable way to address the particular problems we face...

I believe that I would be failing in my duty of public protection if the Part 4 powers were removed from the armoury of measures available to protect the United Kingdom from specific terrorist threats."

1. Full-text of the Privy Counsellor Review Committee: Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act Review: Report (pdf)
2. Guantanamo Bay: The legal black hole: Twenty-Seventh F.A. Mann Lecture: 25 November 2003 By Johan Steyn [Lord Steyn is a judicial member of the House of Lords - the UK's supreme court]: Lecture (html) Lecture (pdf version)

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