Unsafe, unfair counter-terror proposals are no substitute for our system of evidence, arrest, charge and conviction

Why is Unsafe Unfair important?

Nothing tests our politicians’ adherence to laws and principles like the fight against terrorism. After all, any Government’s primary duty is to protect its people. Human rights law itself requires the State to take steps to safeguard the right to life. But, all-too-often, the risk of terrorism is used to justify quick fixes which fail to protect the public and erode fundamental rights and freedoms.

Under pressure to react to Islamic State’s murderous acts and recruitment of British-born fighters, the Government has again revealed – via its Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 – a raft of proposals which are as unsafe as they are unfair. Like so many of the powers introduced during the so-called “War on Terror”, these plans will leave potentially violent terrorists roaming amongst us while innocent people are subjected to punishment without trial.

The Intelligence and Security Committee’s Report on the brutal murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby exposed a catalogue of failures on the part of the Agencies in tracking the two men responsible. But this Act’s ill-targeted, exceptional measures will only encourage further some of the bad practices identified by the ISC. 

No-one should underestimate the pressures our leaders face in tackling terrorism. But headline-grabbing tough talk, serving neither justice nor security, will never be any substitute for our trusted system of evidence, arrest, charge and conviction.

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The Government’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 includes:

  • Passport seizure and retention powers which are ripe for discrimination (just like the section 44 stop and search without suspicion powers repealed by the Coalition) and will divert attention from the police’s powers of arrest;
  • A regime of exclusion orders which risks exposing British citizens to torture or delivering them into the hands of terror factions;
  • Statutory terrorism prevention duties for a whole range of public bodies, including Universities and schools, embroiling professionals such as lecturers and teachers in counter-terror policing – risking mistrust and alienation;
  • A provision which will remove the requirement for a warrant for the interception of all post sent from, and received in, the UK;
  • New data retention powers mirroring the blanket powers sought under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act – as rejected by the Court of Justice of the EU;
  • Provisions which seek to breathe new life into the widely-discredited TPIMs regime, which has consistently failed to tackle serious criminality through a system of civil restrictions; and
  • Provision for the creation of new “authority-to-carry” schemes – allowing the Home Secretary to refuse authority to whole categories of passengers, on grounds as crude as nationality;

When the Coalition first came to power it bound itself together with the language of civil liberties. With this legislation, the Government abrogates its fledgling commitment to ensure we do not abandon our values in the fight against terror. In confronting an ugly ideology that promotes arbitrary violence, the subjugation of women and tyranny, we would expect political leaders to promote, robustly and actively, democratic values such as the rule of law, human rights and equal treatment. Instead, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 plays into the hands of terrorists by allowing them to shape our laws in a way that undermines our principles.