Defending Liberty: Not a Day More

The campaign against the British government’s bill to extend detention without charge from 28 to 56 days is gainng momentum. One campaign, Not a Day Longer, which brings together Liberal Conspiracy, Amnesty International, City Circle and Our Kingdom, is being run from Facebook, so please sign up here. One thing you can do is to write a letter to your local MP. Here is my missive to my MP, the former Secretary of State for Health:

Dear Patricia Hewitt,

I write as a very concerned constituent of yours regarding the government’s proposal to extend detention without charge from 28 to 56 days. As you formerly worked for Liberty (which is now opposing this bill), I’m sure that you will appreciate the gravity of chipping away at one of our most fundamental freedoms: the right not to be detained without charge.

Britain already has the longest period of detention without charge; by comparison, Turkey has 7.5, Ireland, 7, France, 6, Russia, 5, the USA, 2, and Canada, 1. All these countries also face a terrorist threat but have not seen fit to drastically undermine habeas corpus to the extent that Britain has, a fundamental right first promulgated in England over 700 years ago.

The government has not only selected an arbitrary figure of 56 days for the extension but has provided no compelling evidence that it is necessary. At no point have terror suspects failed to be charged within the current 28 days. The difficulty in dealing with encrypted computer files can be addressed by additional resources and expertise.

Skepticism has become widespread with leading figures like Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general, Ken Macdonald, director of public prosecutions and head of CPS, Lord Woolf, former lord chief justice, Vera Baird QC, solicitor-general, and Jonathan Evans, head of MI5, coming out against the extension.

The alienating impact on Muslim communities, the impact on families with potentially innocent individuals being held for up to two months, and the erosion of the presumption of innocence, will in all likelihood work against efforts to garner better intelligence if the fundamental rights of those whom these measures will more adversely affect are stripped away.

So far, forty nine Labour MPs have decided to vote for the freedom and liberties for all of Britain’s citizens. There is no simple trade off between freedom and security. It behoves us to tackle terrorism by upholding our most precious rights and values. I ask that you will now vote against the extension in Parliament.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Birt

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