Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Control Orders

There are no easy answers to the challenge represented by terrorism. Any responsible politician has to recognise that some terrorist groups pose a serious threat to the lives of British Citizens and we need to minimise that threat.

At the same time we have to recognise that draconian measures are not just sometimes counter-productive - if we voluntarily surrender hard-won freedoms to defeat terrorists, we hand them a victory on a plate. Should that happen, the bombers and Jihadis have not defeated us, they have made us defeat ourselves.

There is a difficult balance to strike. I believe it was right to extend the maximum period for detention without trial in cases where terrorism was suspected from 7 days to 28 days, but it would have been wrong to extend it to 90 days or 42 days. (Indeed, there are strong rumours that, with the support of the security services, the government may be about to drop it back to 14 days.)

The Prime Minister is rumoured to have described the looming decision about "control orders" (which verge on house arrest) using an anglo saxon epithet and the words "car-crash." DC is right to be concerned. There are no perfect options in this case - just bad ones and terrible ones.

There are dozens of variants, mostly usually attributed to Ben Franklin, of a famous quote about the trade-off between freedom and security. More than one may be accurate, but he almost certainly did write

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

A country which practices house arrest without trial, or locks people up for three months without trial, has made that kind of devil's bargain and will reap the consequences.

So I hope it is true that, as the press have suggested, Nick Clegg, Ken Clarke, and Dominic Grieve have won the battle inside the coalition government to scrap or at least drastically water down the "control orders" regime. Not because this will save the government political difficulty but because I think it is the right thing for Britain.

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