02 July 2007

The price of liberty is eternal legislation

I suppose I should feel encouraged that, after a potentially explosive weekend, it wasn't just the bombs that failed to go off. The government managed not to promise to enact a new raft of legislation in response, in an attempt to Be Seen To Be Doing Something. If the Brown era is truly one without spin, then this was its biggest test - to resist to temptation to shout: "WE'RE DOING SOMETHING RIGHT NOW".

Having said that, it is difficult to think of many more anti-terror measures the government could take that they haven't already. Having suspended habeas corpus, allowed indefinite house arrest for foreign nationals, attempted to remove trial by jury, the right to silence, the right of public protest and "only" imposed the longest period for arrest without charge of any western democracy, probably the only things left are military curfews and shoot-to-kill policies. And ID Cards, of course, but we can't afford both them AND the Olympics.

And sure enough, before long, the new "calm" Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, was telling MPs: "There may well be a case for looking very carefully at the amount of time that we are able to detain people pre-charge in order to ensure the very best opportunity to bring convictions." Note how being arrested without charge has become "pre-charge", as though those banged up for 28 days "pre-charge" were simply on phase one of the inevitable march to justice. Lest anyone should dwell on the fact that only 4% are ever charged with anything.

Mr Brown, like his predecessors, says he refuses to be intimidated by terrorists. Maybe he will be the first PM to recognise the irony of introducing the sort of laws that intimidate the British people, just to show the terrorists that we're not intimidated. But I'm not holding my breath.

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