42 days detention without trial: Lord Goldsmith speaks out again

Interesting to see the former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, is speaking out – again, but in much more strident terms this time – against Labour’s proposals to introduce detention without trial for up to 42 days.

There’s much I’ve disagreed with him on over the years, but he has it absolutely right when he says, “We start ourselves to destroy these values and the very basis of the free society which our ancestors fought hard to create if we readily give away critical liberties, such as the right we all have not to be arbitrarily held without charge.”

Moreover – we’ve still not had a convincing case put that this 42 day proposal is actually needed. I fear it is becoming a game of political macho posturing – Gordon Brown’s said he wants 42 days, so 42 days he must get – regardless of whether or not it is the right policy.

Who is against extending the period people can be detained without trial?

Jail cellWell, I’ve blogged about my scepticism over the government’s case just once or twice before! But there’s also a good list of who has spoken out against increasing the current 28 day limit – and their key quotes – over on Liberal Conspiracy.

And these opponents are no starry-eyed people with their heads in the sky – they are hardened experts such as Lord Goldsmith – former attorney general, Ken Macdonald – head of the Crown Prosecution Service and Lord Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice. Given Lord Goldsmith’s willingness to back the war in Iraq then frankly – if even he thinks there is no need to go beyond 28 days, then that should give even the most loyal of Labour backbenchers pause for thought. I hope!

Two more voices speak out against extending detention without trial

There’s something quite bizarre about the drive to extend the period people can be detained without trial to 90 days. We’ve already had the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, admitting there hasn’t been a single terrorist case so far where more than the current 28 days limit was needed.

Today two more significant voices spoke out. First was the former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, who told the Home Affairs Select Committee that he had seen no evidence to go beyond 28 days – and that he would even have resigned from the Government to fight Labour’s attempt to get 90 days previously.

Also appearing today was Ken Macdonald, head of the Crown Prosecution Service – and so right there at the heart of decisions over whether or not enough evidence has been gathered in cases to proceed with a prosecution. His verdict? He is “satisfied” with the current 28 day limit and that he hasn’t seen any cases that would have required a longer period.

So, why oh why is Labour (or, to be fair – some parts of Labour) still so eager to increase the limit?

And why does all this matter in the end? It’s because not everyone the police arrests is guilty. Innocent people get arrested and detained too.

Extending the amount of time people can be detained isn’t just some cost-free exercise to punish the nasty; we should remember also the innocent people who get detained – locked up, separated from their families, taken away from their jobs – with who knows what to return to afterwards. That’s an awful trail of wreckage to make out of someone’s life – and no way should we risk more of that happening without an utterly convincing case as to why longer detention without trial would really help.

The Westminster Hour gets rowdy

The Westminster Hour got quite rowdy last night. The topics were: the Labour Leadership, Lord Goldsmith (cash for peerages) and Cameron’s debacle over Greg Dyke. On Lord Goldsmith – he is in an untenable position with regard to cash for peerages being the Attorney General, a donor to the Labour party and a lord. He must not be the person who accepts or rejects the recommendations that come forward arising from the police cash-for-peerages investigation. My Liberal Democrat colleague, Lord Oakeshott, will be putting questions on this in the Lords this week.

In other news – lost my glasses – either at the BBC or in the car they sent me home in! Damn.

90 days detention without charge

Dash up to do live Sky interview for 8.30am. But due to breaking news – Tony Blair in Afghanistan, with a live feed – they say can I stay for 9.00 live, and then after that I do a pre-record on 90 days detention without charge, why prisoners shouldn’t be able to claim working tax credits and the billions spent on the Iraq war.

Lord Goldsmith’s pronouncement that the Government should not go back to Parliament to ask for 90 days extension to detention without charge without compelling evidence is very welcome. And whilst the media term this a split within government ranks – I welcome it as a breath of fresh air. The Government has being playing politics with the terrorist issue – and it is far too serious an issue for them so to do.

No politician, whatever their persuasion, would deny that in extremis our usual patterns of life and rights would warrant abeyance and disruption for the duration. What is not acceptable is a Government who seeks to rattle sabres without sound basis – and then criticise opposition politicians for questioning their demand.

10 out of 10 to Lord Goldsmith.

Meanwhile – someone emails me that I have made it to the top of the weekly round up of blog postings collated by Tim Worstall. I go and check it out and am really pleased as (a) the piece he picked is quite long – and it shows that people actually are willing to read quite long pieces of text in this sound-bite world, (b) that the piece is being read as intended and (c) Tim says some nice words about me! So – thank you Tim.