MPs have been debating the final stages of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill (TPIM) - a law which has been described as "a continuation of the worst legacies of the war on terror” by human rights group Liberty.
The Bill was drawn up in part to reform the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act [pdf] which was widely considered a piece of legislation that was rushed through parliament.
The 2005 Act allowed ‘control orders’ to be imposed on suspected terrorists without the need for a trial. Control orders could place individuals under house arrest and forcibly relocate them as well as restricting their access to a mobile phone and the Internet.
The more draconian measures of the original Act will be reformed, in particular long curfews and internal exile: forcing a suspect out of his home to relocate in another area. Additionally a two year limit will be the maximum amount of time that the suspect can be restricted without additional evidence of terrorist activities. Previously such Control Orders could operate indefinitely.
The government was criticised of performing a U-Turn last week as an emergency draft Bill that allowed for internal exile and long curfews in exceptional circumstances was published.
Lord MacDonald, Director of Public Prosecutions from 2003-2008, told the Huffington Post that the Bill still suffers from the same fundamental problems:
“The orders amount to a restriction on liberty and terror suspects ought to be tied to a criminal justice investigation. This Bill can warehouse criminals under the control of the security service, which allows them to escape justice as they cannot be prosecuted.”
The report by the Joint Committee of Human Rights noted that: “Recognition of the difficulties of prosecuting some dangerous individuals does not in our view require acceptance of the need for a replacement regime which is essentially a watered down version of control orders.”
The Green MP For Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, said today: "Despite the spin which has accompanied this Bill, it contains the same fundamental mechanism of detention. Restrictions on a terrorist suspect whilst further investigations continue will, in many circumstances, be reasonable and in the public interest. But what is offensive about control orders and their close relations, TPIMs, is that they are imposed by the Executive - not by a court of law."
Amendments, tabled by Dr Julian Huppert MP, Tom Brake, Greg Mulholland, David Davis and Caroline Lucas would have allowed terrorists to be charged in line with the criminal justice system. Police would have imposed bail restrictions between arrest and charge. These amendments were supported by Liberty, the human rights campaigners, but stand no chance of being included in the legislation.
The Lib Dem MP Tom Brake told Huffington Post UK: “Regrettably the police bail amendment will not be debated, as the committee chair decided this morning that it was a substantial shift away from the Bill. However having spoken to an affected individual and his psychiatrist, someone who was detained under a control order and later acquitted, it was the disruptive nature of relocation, and the impact of restricted communication on his family, for example loss of Internet, that were most damaging.”
The challenge of this Bill to redress the balance between liberty and security has been met with strong views on either side of the debate. Colonel Bob Stewart, MP, who has served as an Intelligence Officer in Northern Ireland told Huffington Post UK that he was ‘for the protection of the population first and foremost’:
“I have seen too many innocent people whose rights have been seriously infringed and legs blown off by terrorists who didn’t give a damn about civil liberties.”