42 days and counting!

I am truly sick of the Westminster Village sneering attitude to (now former Conservative Home Secretary) David Davis. Quite frankly – I don’t care if David Davis’s resignation as an MP to fight a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency was motivated by a desire for truth, justice and liberty or because he was never going to get Home Secretary anyway, or because he is a loner, or is an egomaniac, or because he hates David Cameron – all doing the rounds in political gossip circles as explanations.

What I do care about is the issue – and if his actions help secure the same outcome that I want, then good for him – and I don’t see why I should have to pretend that I don’t really agree with him – or have to pretend that him helping to achieve what I want too isn’t a good thing – just because we are in different parties or disagree about 1,001 other issues.

Why does the issue of 42 days detention without charge matter so much? Quite simply – because locking an innocent person up for a month and a half is an awful, ghastly thing to do. Imagine it happening to yourself. How it can wreck jobs, pull apart relationships and leave a deep and abiding sense of anger and hostility.

And we know that innocent people will get locked up. When the police and other authorities think they know that someone is guilty – they ain’t always right. That’s why people get acquitted.

Even with the best will in the world, mistakes are made. And we know too – the best will often is missing. We’ve seen in the fight against Irish terrorism how some police were so convinced they knew who was guilty that evidence was forged – to frame people for crimes they didn’t commit.

We know we can’t just assume that all involved in security matters follow the rules and do their job properly – look at the repeated incidents of secret documents being lost!

The Government’s key argument is that investigations are complex and take too long: that people (including the innocent) have to be locked up whilst investigations are carried out. But that is an argument for more resources to expand capacity and speed up investigations – not an argument to extend detention without charge.

We have already extended the period of detention without charge from 7 to 14 to 28 days in recent years – already longer than any other country in the Western world by a long shot. Even the US – not exactly a shining beacon of remembering human rights whilst fighting terrorism! – only permits two days detention.

Go back to imagining your life. If you’ve got a diary for the next month or two take a look at it. And then imagine being locked up for 42 days without being told why you’re being held. And think of the impact it would have on you and your family.

That’s why this issue cuts to the very core of the point of having elections and Parliament in the first place. If MPs aren’t there to protect people from the almost inevitable demands for greater and greater powers over them from all parts of the state then what is the point of much of what we do?

The Counter Terrorism Bill will now wend its way through the Commons and the Lords. The fight is not over yet – not by a long way.

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2008