Motion to Approve
My Lords, I am aware that the Merits Committee has drawn particular attention to this draft order in its latest report. I welcome the committee’s interest: it is entirely appropriate for such an important debate.
I shall speak first about the threat that we face and then about the Government’s approach to it. On the terrorist threat, I believe that no one here today disputes the fact that this country remains a target for terrorists. A good statement of the threat to this country is contained in the annual report on CONTEST, published by the previous Government in March of this year, and it remains valid today. This is available in the House Library. We have dealt with the threat from Irish republican terrorists for many years, and although great steps forward have been taken, that threat remains. There have been as many attacks in the first half of this year as there were in the whole of 2009.
We are only too aware of the threat from Islamist terrorists, five years after the horrifying attacks of July 2005. Numerous other plots, fortunately, have been disrupted. Between 11 September 2001 and 31 December 2009, 235 people were convicted of terrorism-related offences, and a further 22 defendants were awaiting trial at the end of last year. Islamist extremists, particularly those associated with al-Qaeda, aspire to carry out attacks causing mass casualties, to try to undermine our cohesion, our values and our way of life. In dealing with the threat, we have to remain true to those values and freedoms that this country stands for.
The question is often asked why terrorism investigations should be treated any differently from any other criminal investigations, or indeed why we need any special law. Terrorists are, after all, criminals. Serious criminal investigations can also be complex and wide in scale and we frequently use long-standing common law offences to convict terrorists, so why the special treatment? The answer lies in the need to protect public safety. The current wave of international terrorism is no respecter of human life; rather the contrary, in the perverse and evil world of al-Qaeda, mass casualties are a signal achievement of the suicide bomber.
Experience has shown that the earlier the need to intervene to disrupt a terrorist plot for public safety reasons, the greater the likelihood of having to conduct a significant portion of an investigation after arrest and the greater the potential difficulty of obtaining admissible evidence leading to charge and conviction. The House will also be aware that the volume of information requiring careful investigation; the increasingly sophisticated use by terrorists of modern communications; the complexity of international terrorist networks; and the need to secure international co-operation and await the results of forensic examination of substances used by terrorists as weapons all add to the complications of the task faced by the police in unravelling a plot to identify its perpetrators.
In recognition of the unprecedented nature of the threat, Parliament put in place a maximum of 28 days’ detention before charge, but it also did something else. In recognition of the exceptional nature of the power being granted to the state, it inserted a sunset clause, thus signalling that it was to be regarded as a temporary measure. This obliges us to consider not less than annually whether further extension is justified.
I said during previous debates that I thought the evidence for 28-day detention needed to be examined more closely. The Government are agreed on this. That is why, on Wednesday last week, the Home Secretary announced the inclusion of pre-charge detention in the Government’s wider review of counterterrorism powers, along with control orders, stop and search powers, the use by local authorities of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, deportations with assurances, and measures to deal with organisations promoting hatred or violence. The review will consider the maximum time limit, and whether safeguards in the provisions are sufficient, either in relation to the extension of detention process, or in respect of more general oversight mechanisms.
The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 has been mooted as an alternative to the current pre-charge detention provisions. This is an important suggestion but, after looking at it closely, we have come to the conclusion that the criteria for making emergency regulations under that Act and the purposes for which it is intended do not make it an appropriate vehicle for extending pre-charge detention of terrorist suspects in exceptional circumstances. Since the power to detain for 28 days was passed by Parliament and came into force in July 2006, 11 people have been held for more than 14 days, eight were charged with terrorist-related offences, and four were found guilty. Six people have been held for between 27 and 28 days, three were charged with terrorist-related offences, and two were found guilty. Since July 2007, however, no suspect has been held for more than 14 days.
The fair conclusion from this situation, therefore, is that the power to detain for up to 28 days is not needed routinely for the police to investigate, interrogate and charge terrorist suspects. Given the particular nature of the terrorist threat, on the other hand, we cannot assert with certainty that it will never be necessary to detain some suspects beyond 14 days. Since such circumstances are likely to be rare, we should take steps to reduce the opportunity for abuse of power. So, in moving today’s Motion, I am certainly not asking your Lordships House to support 28 days indefinitely, nor even for 12 months, but for a six-month period, which will give us the time to establish the means, possibly by some contingency arrangement, which will enable us to reduce the limit on an indefinite basis. The order will come into force on 25 July and expire at the end of 24 January 2011.
This approach, and indeed the whole review of counterterrorism powers, will be underpinned by the principles of the coalition Government. Those shared principles are based on a respect for our ancient civil liberties and individual freedom. That is why, for instance, the Government have already introduced legislation to get rid of identity cards and the national identity register, which could have held up to 50 individual items of personal data on a vast national register of all the people in this land.
As security Minister, I recognise as much as anyone the need to protect the public and safeguard national security. But I also have a duty, with the Government, to hang on to proportionality in everything I do.
We have taken immediate steps to restrict the use of terrorism stop-and-search powers, which were found to be against international law. We have included the controversial use of automatic number plate recognition cameras in the review of CCTV regulation. We will bring forward a freedom Bill, adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database, restore rights to non-violent protest, end the storage of internet and e-mail records without good reason and extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. We will take the same considered, clear-headed approach to pre-charge detention as we are taking on all these issues.
Terrorism is an enormous international challenge, and it is vital that we support the police and other agencies in their work to keep us safe from it. That is not just a priority for this Government but a public duty that we all share. However, we also share the commitment to upholding the hard-won democratic freedoms that are the thread running through our history. A six-month renewal will provide the opportunity to give full consideration to the important issues involved. I commend the order to the House.
My Lords, I want to comment on the interesting statement by the Minister. I speak as the chair of Justice, which is the UK-based human rights and law reform organisation whose mission is to advance access to justice, human rights and the rule of law. It is also the British section of the International Commission of Jurists. This House will know that that international commission set up a panel of eminent jurists who reported last year on the issue of terrorism and in February 2009 produced a report, Terrorism, Counterterrorism and Human Rights, in which it recommended that there should be a review of counterterrorism legislation in this country because of its concern that there had been so much erosion of civil liberties and of some of the protections and safeguards that are so important to our system, which is admired around the world.
We therefore welcome the Government's review. The steps they are taking to reinstate many of the liberties that we saw eroded are greatly welcomed by human rights lawyers. However, we are concerned that the Government are still going to continue with the 28-day pre-charge detention relating to terrorism, even for six months. In our view, with great care taken to look at the evidence, we are confident that 28 days is not necessary. We make the argument that it is not necessary because plainly it is at odds with the right to liberty. Also, the period is far longer than any other western democracy has in place, and there is a lack of effective safeguards.
I remind the House of a number of the facts of the cases that have come before the courts in recent times. Our review of the use of the 28 days over the period since 2006, when 14 days was raised to 28 days, found that six suspects had been held for as long as 27 or 28 days. Three of those were released without charge. Three were charged with terrorism offences but, of those three, two were acquitted and only one was convicted. In that one instance where there was a successful conviction, it appears that the great majority of admissible evidence was already available to the police at the time of arrest; it was certainly available before the 14 days were up.
We have also seen that five of the six suspects held for up to 28 days were arrested in the context of Operation Overt, the liquid bomb plot. I should declare that I was one of the counsels in that case so I am familiar with it in some detail. Indeed, all three men who were ultimately convicted were charged within 12 days of their arrest—the 28 days were not necessary in that case either.
Justice urges the House that to defer a decision on this matter even for six months is too long. I remind noble Lords that in other western democracies, particularly in common law countries, there is nothing like this erosion of safeguards and protections. In Canada, there is a requirement to charge within a day; in the United States, it is two days; in South Africa, it is two days; and in New Zealand, it is two days. Even in other parts of Europe which do not have the common law system, to which I am so committed, the position is different. For example, in Germany the period is two days; in Spain, it is a maximum of five days; and in France, it is a maximum of six days. Charging is expected to take place within those limits.
We are concerned that there is an incompatibility with Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We think that it is highly likely that Schedule 8, the authorisation procedure, will be found incompatible with the requirements of Article 5. We ask the Government to look again at whether there is even a need to have the six months’ extension which is now being considered.
However, I say all of that in the context of our view that the Government are taking the right steps in having this inquiry into what is needed. Clearly, no country should roll over in the face of terrorism and special steps have to be taken, but it is our view that the extension to 14 days, which was introduced, is adequate to the challenges that we all face.
My Lords, I share the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. I appreciate that we are debating this issue in the context of the Government’s very welcome announcement that they will conduct a review of the 28-day pre-charge detention limit. However, I am unpersuaded that there is any basis for continuing this power, even on a temporary basis.
There are three points which your Lordships will wish to have well in mind. First, this is an extraordinarily exceptional power. English law normally requires that suspects be charged or released within four days. The pre-charge detention limit for terrorist cases was limited to seven days until 2003, when it was raised to 14 days. English law jealously restricts the power of the state to detain people without charge, and rightly so. It is only when charged that the person concerned has the right to be told the accusation against him and to respond to it. For the state to hold a person without charge for up to four weeks is inevitably a very substantial interference with their freedom and inevitably has a very damaging effect on their work, family relationships and reputation in the community.
Secondly, there must, therefore, be a very heavy onus on the Government to justify such an interference with basic liberty. The real question is whether they can meet that heavy onus. I suggest that they have failed to identify any practical experience whatever which establishes, or indeed even suggests, that a 14-day limit would not suffice. This is, of course, not a new problem. The Home Office has all the relevant information. Will the Minister in her reply please identify for the House whether there are any cases in which pre-charge detention after 14 days was necessary to the successful prosecution of a terrorist suspect? It is surely not sufficient for the noble Baroness to assert—and who can disagree with the assertion?—that it is impossible to be sure that there might never in the future be an occasion when more than 14 days might be required, as she put it.
My third and final point, which I hope troubles this Government more than it did the previous Government, is that detaining a suspect pre-charge for as long as 28 days is a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. It would be declared to be so by the European court and, indeed, by our courts were this power to be exercised. In this respect, the European convention simply adopts and applies the principles of English common law developed over the centuries. Article 5 entitles a suspect to be informed promptly of any charge against him, and case law clearly establishes that “promptly” means within a few days, even in cases where an individual is suspected of terrorism. Therefore, if and when the 28-day power is used, it is almost certain that a challenge to its legality would succeed. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government have been advised to the contrary?
The organisations Liberty and Justice have been making these points eloquently and repeatedly over the years. There is, I suggest, no coherent answer to them. The noble Baroness mentioned the Statement that she made to the House on 13 July, repeating a Statement by the Home Secretary in the other place. She said that,
“the first duty of Government is to protect the public—but that duty must never be used as a reason to ride roughshod over civil liberties. And that is what the last Government did on too many occasions. This Government are different”.—[Official Report, 13/7/10; col. 644.]
I am very sorry indeed that this Government do not feel able to demonstrate the difference on this occasion.
My Lords, in previous debates in your Lordships’ House on this issue I spoke strongly against longer periods of detention in these cases—perhaps an uncomfortable position for a former police commissioner to take. Nevertheless, I felt that that was a principled position and I have needed persuasion that allowing detention, even up to 28 days, was necessary. However, we do not know how terrorists’ tactics may change tomorrow, the day after or the day after that. There can be no certainty on the sorts of alliances that could be formed around the world in the next few months that may increase the complexity of terrorist investigations, and may well need, in very rare cases, periods of detention longer than 14 days, up to a maximum of 28 days. So although I remain uncomfortable with the notion of detention without charge for as long as 28 days, I support the order. It is a wise, sensible and pragmatic holding position, which is nothing more than a holding position, until further review activity is completed.
My Lords, I am beginning to think that it is probably unwise for someone who is neither a lawyer nor a former senior policeman to engage in this debate, but those with longish memories may recall that from 2001 until about 2003 I chaired a group of privy counsellors looking at the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, who produced a report that I am bound to say the then Home Secretary did not like at all, precisely because its drift was somewhat in line with some of the comments that have been made today and, I dare say, has been reasonably well justified by events during the intervening period. All that leads me to say that I, too, have been somewhat depressed—as, evidently, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, have been—by the drift during the intervening period towards continued erosion of civil liberties.
I therefore take this opportunity to applaud the approach that my noble friend outlined on behalf of the Government. It might follow from that that I would be on the side, in this particular debate at this particular time, of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. I am not, for a reason that lines me up with the noble Lord, Lord Condon. Against the background of the shift towards a more liberal approach in these matters that appears to be taking place, the Government and my noble friend deserve the chance to produce a properly thought-through change in a well crafted bit of legislation and to not get forced into some of the knee-jerk stuff that we have seen too many times in the past few years.
My Lords, I have a question and, although it may appear tangential, I hope your Lordships will feel that it is a question that I am justified in putting to the Minister. She spoke of the Government’s commitment to protecting our hard-won democratic liberties. Should that principle not be applied seamlessly and consistently across all areas of policy? If so, why are the Government not allowing the House of Commons the normal time to scrutinise the Academies Bill? I know it is not a Home Office responsibility, but there is collective responsibility across government as a whole. Parliament is where our democratic liberties are most importantly enshrined, and I would be grateful if the Minister would be willing, on behalf of the Government as a whole, to explain that.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak today, but my noble friend Lady Kennedy raised a point that I would like to touch on. It relates to how other countries hold people. When I was Security Minister, I discovered—I shall not say to my horror, but to my surprise—that an awful lot of those countries have other mechanisms whereby people are held for unbelievably long periods. The mechanisms are very cleverly crafted so that they do not break any rules, but I found them quite horrifying. It is very dangerous to make those comparisons either within the Commonwealth or within Europe. I can think of one European country not far away that has been holding someone for just over five years in a very clever way so that it does not break these rules. I am very glad that we have not gone down that route. I am also very glad that we are debating this point, as our party believes very strongly in civil liberties and we look at things like this as being very important. We did all the time that I was Security Minister—three years. We need to be careful about comparisons. I do not think we have anything to be ashamed of at all in this country.
My other point relates to English law, common law and the wonderful history of this country. It is perfect for a case where you have a murdered body lying on the floor, you investigate that, you find someone who is guilty and you charge them. It is not good when all you have is lots of intelligence. We have found that that intelligence is very often very accurate, but it is not evidence. That makes these cases somewhat different.
The way the Government propose to go forward is eminently sensible. Looking at these issues across the board is very important, but let us not rush into something. We have a good record here. Yes, it seems very harsh, some very horrible things happened and there are a lot of people who mean to do us very great harm. We need to bear that in mind when we weigh all this in the balance.
My Lords, I support the Minister with great pleasure because she has over many years now had a fine record of circumspect vigilance, if I could put it like that, in this field. In putting forward this order today, she is exhibiting that same quality of circumspect vigilance. In recent weeks, we have seen the broad outlines of a new government policy on terrorism. On the one hand we have seen a more liberal approach, with an attempt to remove irritations that communities feel with some aspects of policy, and on the other an attempt to draw a firm line with respect to extremist ideologues, symbolised by the action taken by the Home Secretary in the middle of last month over the visit of Zakir Naik. I wish the Government well with this subtle balancing project.
Some of the discussion that is now going on about the strong and realistic possibility that in some months’ time we will move from 28 days to 14 seems to be a little unrealistic and utopian. It is based to some degree—not for the first or last time—on a forced and false analogy with Northern Ireland. It is true that the internment policy, which was introduced in mid-1971, was a failure, but we must remember that, although it was phased out in the mid-1970s, terrorism went on for another 20 years and is not to this day fully extinguished in Northern Ireland. It is important not to have exaggerated expectations for the impact of any move from 28 to 14 days, because it is clear, as all serious practitioners acknowledge, that the issues of the illiberality or incipient authoritarianism, alleged or practical, of our modern state are not the ones that motivate those who involve themselves in terrorism.
There is a more complicated question about the broader communities that may or may not have what is called in Ireland a sneaking regard for terrorism. Here again, it is clearly the case that the Government must take a careful look at what the state does. However, the truth is that what modern states, even the most liberal and sophisticated, do in the face of terrorism is to a degree always clumsy. It is also the case that it is not quite as important in the evolution of communal attitudes as many believe. The tragedy of terrorist acts is that they force members of the community either to identify with them or, in an act of great moral courage, to say no to them. There is something polarising about these acts that forces communities into a position either of denial or—to use the Irish phrase again—of sneaking regard. Therefore, the fundamental thing has to be to stop terrorism, because those actions are the driver of the process, rather than the inevitable, clumsy and inadequate acts of the state. I guarantee that if we go to 14 days, within two or three years something else that the state is doing will be said to be inflaming communal sentiment. For those reasons of caution, I welcome the circumspect vigilance that characterises the approach to these matters of the noble Baroness and I am glad to support the order.
My Lords, the extension of 14 days to 28 started as a temporary measure and remains temporary; we need to remember that. However, the extension even to 14 days in the parent legislation was an extension from the original four. Fourteen days is exceptional in every sense of the word and 28 days more so. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, referred to drift. I entirely agree with him. It is important that renewal does not become routine and that the reasons for renewal are not merely a parroting of what has gone before. The measures taken over the past few years have too often been knee-jerk.
This occasion is different. Were it not so, I would have encouraged colleagues to vote against the order. Liberal Democrats have consistently opposed 28 days. It may be a disadvantage to be tidy-minded, but I see the logic of not pre-empting the review of counterterrorism powers—not just the headline powers of control orders, detention without charge, deportation with assurances and so on, but how the powers relate to one another and all the underlying measures and mechanisms that are available or that might be made available. These were listed in your Lordships’ House when the Minister announced the review. In all this, I stress the role of the judiciary in allowing an extension of detention without charge and in post-charge interviews. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us about the bringing into force of, I think, Section 22 of the 2008 legislation.
Reference has been made to the mechanisms available in other jurisdictions. I hope that the review that will come out of the Home Office in due course will explain the differences between the different jurisdictions. I entirely take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord West, that one cannot look at the period of detention without charge in isolation from all the other mechanisms used by the different jurisdictions, as these matters are not easily transferable. However, for those of us who are concerned with this whole area, it would be helpful to have the distinctions spelled out so that we are clear about them.
I readily acknowledge that there is a fault-line in my logic in that I am not prepared to keep a wholly open mind until I see the outcome of the review. I am not prepared to cross that fault-line. Liberal Democrat policy is to reduce the time limit to 14 days. In six months or less, I know that I will find myself saying that I am not prepared to settle for—I was going to say “less” but in terms of days it is “more”.
The Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, of which I am a member, asked the Home Office for specific evidence showing that the order is necessary. The Home Office gave us a summary of the state of one investigation 14 days after arrest. It suggested the scale of the investigation that was required in that case, which we were told was typical. However, I wonder whether it would have been very different had we been discussing 21 days or, indeed, 42. I have no idea whether investigators succumb to the temptation to allow work to expand to fill the time available, as is the case with almost everyone else in every other context.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, referred to the figures relating to releases, charges and so on for those detained for 14 days and more. She referred to the single instance where I understand there was a successful conviction for terrorism offences following 28 days’ pre-charge detention and where most of the admissible evidence was available to the police at the time of the arrest. I do not want to be too glib: the suspected or potential offences are serious, but so, too, is detention without knowing the charges against you and so not having the opportunity to answer allegations. I hope that access to information and secret evidence used by the police and prosecutors will also be part of the Home Office review.
Like others, I am extremely grateful for the briefings from Justice, Liberty and Amnesty International. Of course, those briefings are the tip of the iceberg, but the work that they do is extremely valuable. They comment on worldwide monitoring, which shows that a prolonged period of pre-charge detention creates a climate for abusive practices that tend to prompt detainees to make involuntary statements. They refer to the effect on family life, work and other relationships, the stigma to which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred, and the disproportionate and discriminatory impact on members of certain communities, with the consequent negative effect on policing and intelligence-gathering.
When the time limit was last renewed, the Minister, who was then speaking for the Opposition, explained that she did not feel that she could vote for or support a change with potential implications for security on the basis of the then incomplete debate. She said:
“Lest the Government conclude that this is therefore the way to obtain renewal in future—by keeping the House in the dark and by ignoring the numerous objections to obnoxious features of the current legal regime—let me give fair warning that on these Benches we shall not be so complaisant on future occasions. The Government must not think that they can take Parliament for granted”.—[Official Report, 23/6/09; col.1542.]
Quite so. The Home Secretary said last week in the Commons:
“I am aware that in asking many hon. Friends and hon. Members to vote for this temporary six-month measure today, I am asking them to take a deep breath and vote for a measure that they do not very much like. But I can assure them that if they support this order, I will work with hon. Members on both sides of the House to find a solution that reduces the limit for pre-charge detention, but gives the police the powers they need to keep us all safe from those who would bring devastation to our country”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/7/10; cols. 1008-09.]
I very much welcome those comments from the Home Secretary, her willingness to work on a cross-party basis—this should not be a partisan issue—and her clear indication that, for her, the default is 14 not 28 days. We await the counterterrorism review with considerable interest, so I, too, am prepared not just to take a deep breath but to hold my nose and not to oppose the order today.
The Opposition support the order so I shall not delay the House too long. However, our support comes with something of a health warning. The contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, highlights this.
In the past few days in respect of various other proposals to review, Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House have sought to persuade Ministers to speculate on the outcome of the examinations that have taken place and have been rightly rebuffed. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, refused to speculate on the outcome of the anti-terrorism review that we debated last week. Accordingly, I am not sure that it was wise of the Home Secretary to indicate a personal preference for 14 rather than 28 or any other number of days when this order was debated in another place. To be fair, she said that she did not think it right to pre-empt the review, which is the most important issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, spelt out cogently the risk that still exists.
The risk has not diminished in the past year at all. There has been no diminution in the risk of terrorist activity. Indeed, in Northern Ireland there has been an increase. The threat level remains severe and the police and the DPP support the continuance of the 28-day provision. It is a year since its renewal—I accept that that is why we are renewing it, albeit for six months, as it is a temporary provision. Nobody in your Lordships’ House would be happier than us, on these Benches, if we found the risk so diminished that the requirement for any pre-charge detention could be removed completely.
We have learnt more in the past year, by means of Operation Overt, about the so-called liquid bomb plot involving the planned destruction of seven passenger aircraft flying to North America. In that case, pre-charge detention beyond 14 days was necessary for six people. There was Operation Pathway in Greater Manchester, which was raised in the debate in the other place a year ago, and we know that that plot was successfully thwarted. We understand much better that it was a serious and advanced plot. These cases explain why, to date, 28 days has been deemed necessary. Noble Lords on all Benches will be happy to see that reduced, I am sure.
I am not sure how this argument can be taken. It is cited that there are few cases, which means that the power is not required. We are also told that there is a natural propensity—Parkinson’s law—in security that the more time you give people, the more time they will take. I would be astonished if that were the case in security issues. I would be very surprised if the security services and the police were not aware that smart lawyers, many of whom represent clients in courts and are Members of your Lordships' House, are willing to demolish any case built on a prevention of charging when charges could be brought.
It is the right of all Governments to review and it is right to review this order annually. The question is whether in the past year sufficient has happened to persuade us that the threat is diminished. That is where the health warning comes in. I am not sure that I like the idea of a default position of 14 days before a review takes place and before all the key authorities involved have been briefed and made their contribution. Therefore, it is important that the review should be evidence-based. Ultimately, sound judgment is required, which is what we expect from our Home Secretary and our Government, to establish whether we have reached the point where we can withdraw the 28-day provision or impose alternative powers. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, with her knowledge, experience and integrity, will wish nothing less. I support the Motion.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their characteristically thoughtful contributions. The purpose of this short extension is to enable the Government to have enough time to do two things. The first is to look at the legislation concerning pre-charge detention and other counterterrorism legislation that we want to review in the round and in relation to each other. The second is to look at the existing operation of the 28-day regime. I was asked, for instance, whether post-charge questioning, which has not yet commenced, will come into operation. That is precisely one of the factors which we want to look at, together with a number of other provisions which seem to us to be relevant in deciding whether we can reduce the maximum time for pre-charge detention.
I mentioned “contingency” and the Civil Contingencies Act. I stick by my comment that, given the threat about which I will say something in a moment, we cannot say with absolute certainty that a time longer than 14 days might never be needed. Equally, we take the view that the current evidence tends to suggest that we ought not, if we can avoid it, continue with the current maximum length of pre-charge detention. However, we want to look at that and at whether it is possible to put in place some kind of contingency that will enable us, with safety, to reduce the normal maximum time.
A number of noble Lords asked why the UK had to have so long a time when other systems somehow managed to do with less. Like other Members of your Lordships' House, I greatly value the work done by organisations such as Justice and Liberty. However, when one is comparing systems, it is right to do a thorough job and, as the noble Lord, Lord West, said, it is not entirely fair to compare the UK system with, say, France’s. Indeed, even among common-law countries, the practice is not uniform. In Australia, for example, there is a 14-day limit that can be significantly extended by something called the stand-down time.
We should not forget that the threat remains. I very much hope that, by other flanking measures which the previous Government put in place and policies which we continue, we are managing to harden our targets and to become a more difficult target for terrorists. We also know more about the enemy than previously. All those are relevant factors in considering whether it is right and safe now to reduce the maximum time for our pre-charge detention.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, among others, asked whether there was any evidence for the operation of the 28 days and whether history showed that we needed it. He also asked whether it was right, and in accordance with the ECHR, that the suspect was not given sufficient information at an early stage about the charge. That is not the case. The grounds of arrest are put before a defendant when he goes before the magistrate, and he must go before the magistrate no later than 48 hours after arrest. There is no question that people's rights are being violated in that respect. Much as we would like not to have the legislation if we could—the object of the exercise is to see whether we can dispense with it safely—it is human rights-compliant. I hope that the House will accept that in prolonging the provision for a period while that detailed and careful examination takes place, we are not violating the rights of any current or future defendant, while protecting the public.
I have one last point to make. A noble Lord asked about the difference between the varieties of terrorism that we face. It is disturbing that we have an increase in terrorist activity in Northern Ireland. The nature of that terrorism is somewhat different from the Islamist terrorism that we face, which is one reason why we have the 28-day provision in place at the moment. We will look at introducing other measures in conjunction with a different regime on pre-charge detention, combined with our assessment of how we stand in relation to the threat. Our examination of the legislation will take all those factors—the operation of the legislation itself, our view of the threat to us and our ability to withstand the threat—into account. All those are relevant factors in deciding whether we can find some other way to deal with pre-charge detention in normal circumstances.
With that summary, I thank noble Lords for their contributions and invite the House to approve the order.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, may I ask one question? My noble friend on the Front Bench raised the issue that the review should be evidence-based. Of course, until we get the evidence, we do not know how much of it can be published. I totally accept that. Can the Minister go so far as to say that there will be a presumption in the review that the maximum amount of evidence that can be published will be published at the end of it?
My Lords, it is a fair promise to make to this House that we will publish as much of our considerations as we possibly can. On the evidence base, a number of noble Lords asked: were 28 days really necessary in those individual cases or were we dealing with a variety of Parkinson's law? I do not think that the police are guilty of applying Parkinson's law, but it is right for us nevertheless to consider whether we need such a limitation in future.