Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday and in an interview to the Sunday Telegraph, Shadow Home Secretary, Ed Balls, offered his contribution to the ongoing debate around counter-terrorism measures.
His comments come amid a current Home Office review of counter terrorism and security powers being conducted by Lord Ken Macdonald.
“I've said to [Home secretary, Theresa May,] that if we can get a consensus on counter-terrorism, we should, and we need to see all the evidence before we reach conclusions. The report's not yet been done. But I think there is an emerging view that we're striking a balance between on the one hand making sure we protect our country from terror threats, but also protecting fundamental freedoms; and if we're ever going to have pre-charge detention, it should be at the minimum amount which is necessary. People thought 28 days might be needed. In fact in the last three years, it's not gone beyond 14 days.”
He did, however, seem to lean toward introducing bail conditions after 14 days that would limit the movements of those released without any charge, saying that it was “something that we should look at.”
This measure was condemned in a letter by Liberal Democrat MPs and peers to the Home Secretary, which stated that they believe “a maximum of 14 days pre-charge detention gives wholly adequate time to bring charges, even in the most complicated cases of multiple attack.”
When in government, there had been a move in the Labour party to increase detention period to 90 days without charge – a measure supported by Ed Balls at the time, but one which he now describes as “a step too far.”
Asked whether Labour had got the balance between protecting the country from security threats and protecting fundamental freedoms “slightly wrong”, Mr Balls replied “yes”, adding in the Sunday Telegraph, “our reputation as a party which protected liberty as well as security suffered as a result.”
On control orders, Mr Balls only managed to say, “If the security services and the police can persuade the Home Secretary there's alternatives to control orders - it could be travel restrictions, it could be more surveillance - then we should support that.”
“We don't yet know whether an alternative to control orders can work.”
The question is not whether an alternative to control orders exist and is workable but whether such measures themselves advance our collective security. In that there can be no doubt that control orders, according to the Home Office report “no longer provide an effective response to the continuing threat and it appears from recent legal cases that the legality of the control order regime is in serious doubt.”
Diane Abbot MP, in an Early Day Motion (EDM 1308) called the use of secret evidence in UK courts "fundamentally wrong" and running"entirely contrary to Habeas Corpus."
The decisions taken in the area of counter-terrorism, says Mr Balls, “should be determined above all by what the evidence shows.”
Evidence has shown that the counter terrorism measures brought in by the Labour administration have been ineffective and, at times, counter productive. Furthermore, the right balance between liberty and security is yet to be found.
100,000 stop and searches resulted in no terrorism-related arrests; control orders have been described as “ineffective”, the PREVENT programme is to be dismantled “after a widespread loss of confidence in it within Muslim communities” and the 28-day pre-charge detention period is the longest in any Western democracy.
The publication date for the review of counter terrorism and security powers is anticipated to be towards the end of the year.
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