UK police split on 42-day detention without charge as Commons vote looms

UK police split on 42-day detention without charge as Commons vote looms

[JURIST] British law enforcement and security officials appear sharply split on the advisability of extending the detention without charge limit for terror suspects to 42 days [JURIST new archive] in the run-up to a Wednesday vote on a contentious new anti-terrorism bill [materials; BBC Q/A] in the House of Commons. Unnamed senior police officers quoted by the Guardian newspaper Monday expressed concern over the potential impact of the measure [Guardian report] on the Muslim community in Britain and were wary of pressure that might be put on police to "manufacture" evidence against those held for the limit. Also Monday, the head of UK domestic intelligence service MI5 took the extraordinary step of issuing a public statement [text] dissociating MI5 from any responsibility for pressing the issue one way or the other:

Since the Security Service is neither a prosecuting authority nor responsible for criminal investigations, we are not, and never have been, the appropriate body to advise the Government on pre-charge detention time limits.

We have not, therefore, sought to comment publicly or privately on the current proposals, except to say that we recognise the challenge posed for the police service by the increasingly complex and international character of some recent terrorist cases.

The government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown risks defeat on the measure, which is opposed by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats as well as by some 30 members of Brown's own Labour Party.

UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said Tuesday that the bill was being amended [JURIST report] to apply only in cases of "grave and exceptional" terrorist threats. Current British law authorizes detention without charge for 28 days [JURIST report].