Not Saussure

November 20, 2006

Goldsmith dashes Blair’s hope of 90-day detention for terror suspects … but look at the small print

Filed under: civil liberties, Law, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 11:32 pm

The Attorney General is a lawyer, after all, so it’s always best to read the small print.

On the face of it, it’s encouraging that Lord Goldsmith reckons he hasn’t as yet seen any evidence to justify extending the 28 detention period for terrorist suspects to 90 days. It’s not so encouraging, of course, that he thinks

The recent investigations demonstrate that it was right to extend the period to 28 days

and it’s still less encouraging when you remember that his views on the legality of invading Iraq (in the sense of its complying with UN resolutions, and thus being immune to accusations of being an instance of the crime of aggression) apparently changed rather rapidly over 10 days in March 2003.

However, the really worrying bit is this:

Legislation to allow police to interview suspects after they had been charged could apply to ordinary criminals as well as terrorists, he continued.

“While terrorism is top of the agenda I don’t think that it needs to be restricted to that.”

There would need to be safeguards to ensure that suspects were not “browbeaten time and time again” by police in the interview room, he added.

Asked why suspects should agree to talk to police once they had been charged, Lord Goldsmith suggested that juries might be able to draw inferences from a suspect’s silence in such circumstances.

This doesn’t quite, as Tim Worstall fears, ‘simply replace being held without being charged with being held on remand,’ since the police would have to have enough evidence to bring charges in the first place. However, it’s very worrying indeed that Lord Goldsmith envisages a further erosion of the right to silence. At the moment, the only inferences that may be drawn are from — in the words the police caution — ‘if you fail to mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court’, a possible inference being that he’s made it up later once he knew what the evidence against him was.

Since the prosecution’s supposed to have enough evidence against you before you’re charged, I’m not sure what further inferences are supposed to be drawn from the fact that, having not answered questions you might reasonably have been expected to before you were charged, you continued to refuse to answer them after you were charged.

More worrying still — and this is the bit people like me have been bashing on about for ages, though it gives me no pleasure to be proved right — is the fact that if we’re bounced into accepting the necessity of something as part of the fight against terrorism, it will inevitably occur to someone that there’s no particular reason why it shouldn’t also form part of the fight against other serious crimes. And while people — so long as they’re not the wrong religion or colour, of course — might console themselves with the thought that they could never be mistakenly suspected of being a potential terrorist, they might very well, though they are completely innocent, find themselves suspected of other serious crimes. And that’s when you need all the legal protection you can get.

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