UK detention powers already far exceed those in comparable democracies Liberty study shows

12 November 2007



Contrary to some misleading reports of investigations in Italy, Italian law only permits pre-charge detention for a maximum of four days. The study, based on advice and assistance from lawyers and academics around the world, demonstrates that the existing 28-day limit already far exceeds equivalent limits in other comparable democracies.
Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti said:
“Ministers have rightly lectured generals in Burma and Pakistan about their rights record, but human rights like charity begins at home. Holding suspects for more than a month without charge would be an international embarrassment.”
Editor of the Report, Jago Russell said:
“This study provides further evidence that an increase beyond 28 days cannot be justified. How can our Government argue that the UK needs to hold people for over a month when the US can only hold people for two days and Canada just one?”
The US constitution limits pre-charge detention to 48 hours, the closest equivalent to pre-charge detention in Spain is limited to five days and Turkish criminal law only permits 7.5 days’ detention before charge. Detaining people for over a month without charge would inevitably lead to injustice, would undermine our ability to fight terrorism by winning hearts and minds and would fly in the face of the British tradition of liberty and justice. This report presents further evidence that this dangerous and potentially counter-productive step is unnecessary.

Contact: Jen Corlew on 0207 378 3656 or 0797 3 831 128
Notes to Editors
1.No two legal systems are exactly the same and comparisons are not always simple but difficulties in drawing comparisons can be over-played. Some countries have very similar criminal justice systems to the UK, making comparisons relatively straightforward. None of these permits pre-charge detention for anything as long as 28 days. In countries that do not have the exact concept of “pre-charge detention”, like France and Germany, lawyers qualified in those jurisdictions have identified the closest equivalent.
2.Recent reports of the Meredith Kercher investigation in Italy confused pre-charge detention with detention pending trial. The four day maximum is protected by article 13(2) of the Italian constitution and the Italian criminal code (articles 386-390)
3.There can be no doubt about the international nature of the threat from Al-Qaida-inspired terrorism. Like the United Kingdom, Spain, the US and Turkey have all suffered from terrorist attacks in recent years. Police in these countries must also face the same investigative challenges cited in support of longer pre-charge detention - the greater complexity of terror plots, their international dimension and the need to intervene and arrest suspects earlier. Despite this, the legal limit imposed on the pre-charge detention of terror suspects in these countries is much shorter than in the UK.
4. Any extension to pre-charge detention would put the UK further out of line with comparable democracies around the world. Not only does this further undermine arguments of the necessity to hold people for over a month without charge, it could also have broader implications. Some states, and some individuals seeking to radicalise Muslim youths, might use the disparity to undermine the UK’s claim to civility and moral authority. Other governments might see this as a green light to pass their own unjust and over-broad measures against those they consider a threat.
5. Liberty has identified better ways of meeting all of the arguments for longer pre-charge detention, including removing the bar on the use of intercept evidence and post-charge questioning. Many of these more proportionate alternatives have not yet even been tried.