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Human rights commissioner warns UK 42-day detention plan could set bad precedent

[JURIST] A proposed anti-terror bill [BBC backgrounder] that would allow British law enforcement authorities to detain terror suspects without charge for up to 42 days [JURIST news archive] should not be passed as it could set a bad precedent for other countries, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights said during a BBC Radio 4 interview [recorded audio] Monday. Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg [official profile] urged officials to keep the limit on pre-charge detention as low as possible, warning that other EU states might look to UK policy for guidance and noting that current UK law, which authorizes detention without charge for 28 days [JURIST report], already has a limit about three weeks higher than most other European countries. The bill has also faced serious opposition [JURIST report] from MPs and human rights groups, but Prime Minister Gordon Brown argued in favor of the measure in a column for the Times Monday:

It is this nature of modern terrorism and the growing complexity of investigations that have led not just the Government but the police and the independent reviewer, Lord Carlile of Berriew, to believe there may be circumstances where it is necessary to go beyond 28 days' pre-charge detention.

The challenge for every government is to respond to the changing demands of national security, while upholding something that is at the heart of the British constitutional settlement: the preservation of civil liberties. And if the national interest requires new measures to safeguard our security, it is, in my view, the British way to make those changes in a manner that maximises the protection of individuals against arbitrary treatment.
The Guardian has more.

UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith [official profile] first proposed a 42-day detention period [JURIST report] in December 2007 after statements made in June 2007 by then-UK Home Secretary John Reid calling for longer pre-charge time limits. A proposal [JURIST reports] was floated last July that would have allowed the extension of the 28-day limit after a declared state of emergency and permitted judges to authorize weekly extensions for up to 56 days subject to parliamentary notification.

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