Plans to relax restrictions imposed on suspected terrorists and rebrand controversial powers used to keep tabs on them are little more than “control orders lite”, critics have said.
Liberty, the civil liberties campaign group, accused the Government of bottling the decision on the future of counter-terrorism powers, saying that, “spin and semantics aside, control orders are retained and rebranded, if in a slightly lower-fat form”.
The new powers announced by Home Secretary Theresa May will no longer need to be reviewed every year, a clear signal that the restrictions against suspected terrorists against whom prosecutions cannot be brought are here to stay.
The term “control order” has been scrapped and will be replaced with “Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures”, or Tpims, Mrs May said.
But Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “When it comes to ending punishment without trial, the Government appears to have bottled it. As before, the innocent may be punished without a fair hearing and the guilty will escape the full force of criminal law. This leaves a familiar bitter taste. Parliament must now decide whether the final flavour will be of progress, disappointment or downright betrayal.”
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper also warned that the plans were a “political fudge” and the review of counter-terrorism powers left gaps which raised “serious questions about security and resources”. The new powers will be limited to two years and will only be renewed “if there is new evidence that they have re-engaged in terrorism-related activities”, the Home Office said.
But the decision to scrap 16-hour curfews but bring in overnight residence requirements, typically of between eight and 10 hours, were greeted with guffaws of laughter from MPs in the Commons. The overnight stays will be monitored by electronic tags and there will be an additional level of flexibility with the suspects allowed to apply to spend a night away from their main residence.
Asked about the difference between curfews and overnight stays, a Whitehall official said the overnight stays could be much shorter and more flexible, allowing arrangements to be made for a suspect’s shift patterns at work or other needs.
The new powers will “more clearly target and focus those limitations”, while still enabling authorities to ban a suspect from visiting a particular building or street, Mrs May said. The Tpims will also give greater freedom of communication and association than the control order regime, which was described as being akin to house arrest by critics.
Limited use of the internet on a home computer will also be permitted, provided that all passwords are given to the authorities. But curfews and further restrictions on communications, association and movement could all be brought in as part of “exceptional emergency measures”, the Home Office said.