Proposed 42-day UK detentions could violate rights: anti-torture commission

[JURIST] The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) [official website] released a report [text] Wednesday expressing concern over a proposed UK anti-terror bill [materials; BBC Q/A] which would allow authorities to detain terror suspects without charge for up to 42 days [JURIST news archive]. The group said that to decrease the risk of mistreatment, the maximum period for police to hold uncharged suspects before transferring them to a prison should be reduced to 14 days, the period between court appearances of the suspects should be no longer than four days, and those appearances should be in person. The group, which monitors prisoner treatment in Europe under the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment [text], explained:

The existing - and a fortiori possible new - provisions regarding the permissible length of pre-charge detention in cases falling under the terrorism legislation are a matter of considerable concern to the CPT. The Committee has no intention of entering into the current debate on the arguments for and against the length of pre-charge detention of terrorist suspects in the United Kingdom. However, as the CPT has emphasised in the past, in the interests of the prevention of ill-treatment, the sooner a criminal suspect passes into the hands of a custodial authority which is functionally and institutionally separate from the police, the better. Consequently, the Committee must insist that neither the existing nor any new provisions in this area should result in criminal suspects spending a prolonged period of time in police custody.
The British government also released its response [text] to the CPT report on Wednesday, saying that it recognized its responsibility to protect the rights of those held, but that its current safeguards were sufficient in light of countervailing national security concerns. The British House of Lords is scheduled to vote on the bill later this month. BBC News has more.

In July, Elizabeth Manningham-Buller [BBC profile], who resigned as the head of MI5 [official website] last year, also criticized [JURIST report] the bill, saying it was unworkable and would not afford defendants the necessary right to a fair trial, during a House of Lords debate [transcript; Liberty UK backgrounder]. Currently, British law authorizes detention of terrorism suspects without charge for 28 days [JURIST report]. Proponents of the new bill have argued that the 28-day time limit endangers national security. Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official profile] has argued for the necessity of the bill [Times column] and told MPs that it is the government's duty [PMQ transcript] to provide such security. In June, the House of Commons approved the bill [JURIST report], but the House of Lords must still approve it for it to become law.


 

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