Matthew Dancona

The case for indefinite detention of terror suspects

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The proposal by Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, reported in today's Observer that the Government introduce powers of indefinite detention for terrorist suspects is already being presented by civil liberties campaigners as the end of Magna Carta, Orwellian and all the other clich├ęs that are trotted out whenever this issue is broached. In fact, Jones is on to something, which Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of anti-terror law, has already advocated. Why get hung up on a particular number of days - 28, 45, 90? Why not entrench a system of judicial supervision, where it is the wisdom of the bench rather than the imminence of a deadline that ensures fairness to the detainee?

It is clear beyond doubt that many modern terrorist cases involve forensic problems of unprecedented complexity - codes, languages, international connections - and that the police will increasingly require longer than they used to in order to sift through the evidence. It will not always be possible to charge a detainee. So why not make it possible for the police to continue detention indefinitely, but only if they can persuade a judge that it is necessary to ensure public safety? That would be a solution which combined the ancient principle of judicial oversight with the ultra-modern context of global terrorism: a very British approach. What do other Coffee Housers think?