Cambridge MP Supports Government on House Arrest

February 10, 2005 1:00 PM

Cambridge's MP Anne Campbell has been criticised for supporting the government in its efforts to give ministers the power to keep terrorist suspects under indefinite house arrest. On Tuesday, Mrs Campbell voted against a Liberal Democrat motion which called on the government not to push through any measures contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The motion also sought to make sure any future anti-terrorist legislation 'enshrines the principle that decisions on restrictions on individual liberties are taken by the courts, and not politicians'. A number of Conservatives voted with the Lib Dems, but the motion was rejected by Labour MPs.

David Howarth, who teaches law at Cambridge University, voiced his concern that the Labour Government was transferring too much power from the judiciary to the executive:

"I am dismayed and amazed that Anne Campbell should support legislation which will give politicians arbitrary powers of arrest. The Home Secretary's scheme to keep suspects under house arrest is unacceptable, and will put us in breach of international agreements on human rights."

His words were echoed by Lib Dem Home Affairs Spokesperson Mark Oaten:

"Lets look at the other countries that have house arrest - do we really want to be grouped with Burma, Zimbabwe and North Korea? The Home Secretary's present proposals are wholly unacceptable and we would seek to vote them down. Round-the-clock house detentions, prolonging our opt-out from the human rights convention and having politicians - not judges - at the forefront of decisions on control orders represent an unnecessary attack on civil liberties."

He went on to explain how a Lib Dem government would balance security concerns with civil liberties:

"Recognising the nature of the present security threat, we have now outlined our alternative. Our preferred approach would be to allow the use of intercept communications and to bring the cases to court. We would allow security-cleared judges to prepare sensitive cases, and consider new processes of jury selection to guarantee that security concerns were met.

"We would consider limited control orders in certain circumstances, but only issued by judges on the basis of a high standard of proof. Serious thought also needs to be given to making terrorist intent an aggravating factor in sentencing and closing any loopholes in the present terrorist offences."

The Lib Dems have also outlined a five point plan to make sure civil liberties are protected under future legislation:

1) Abolish the Royal Prerogative. We need a proper framework for Ministers so that their actions are subject to full parliamentary scrutiny.

2) Ensure all Bills are accompanied by a Privacy Impact Assessment that measures proposals against the effects on the right of the individual to privacy.

3) Make it easier for the public to see the legal advice given to Ministers by amending the Freedom of Information Act.

4) End the politicisation of the Civil Service with a robust Civil Service Act.

5) Strengthen Parliament's ability to scrutinise legislation.

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