42-day detention - is the Government glorifying terrorism?
But the argument is that the UK is now contending with sophisticated international terrorism, which is capable of inflicting indiscriminate violence in civilian populations, most dramatically through the use of suicide bombings. The State therefore needs to deploy more and more intrusive surveillance, and may now arrest suspects before there is sufficient evidence to bring changes.
Yet the question is how to reconcile the Government’s duty to protect the public with the requirement that persons suspected of an offence, including terrorism, should be either charged or released as soon as possible.
So far, a limit of 28 days had been enough, but the Government insists that it is no longer so. But hard cases make bad law, and four weeks’ detention is already a considerable disruption in the life of an innocent person. There are alternatives - continued surveillance, control orders - but detention is the Government’s preferred option.
And now they are promising safeguards, but they are flimsy. If Guantanamo Bay is an affront to legal principle and human dignity, then so is arbitrary detention for 42 days. Christians must be vigilant about demands to sacrifice liberty on the basis of unexamined or exaggerated fears. And we must guard against alienating entire faith groups, lest perfectly legitimate asylum-seekers end up in detention centres without committing any crime. We are in an era in which individuals can be sacrificed for the common good: a few people deported to torture, a few detained without charge, a few wrongly convicted. And no-one really bothers because the numbers are so few. But it is Christian insight which challenges the view of the dispensability of human beings, and it is Christianity which is foundational to our civilisation.
What on earth happens to Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus? It is meaningless to talk in terms of detention without charge for 28 days, or 40, or 90, or even years. How do the police know what length of time is needed to find the crucial evidence? It ought to be for judges to decide, and for the police to be subject to these judges, and it is the judges who should decide if the police were fishing for evidence, or if their emerging case is persuasive.
42-day detention without trial is aimed at one group and one alone. In treating terrorists differently from ordinary criminals, the Government is glorifying terrorism and martyring terrorists. By diminishing the liberties of ordinary people and increasing surveillance, the Government is raising (let us face it) Muslim extremists to precisely the status they seek.