A polemical take on politics, economics and foreign affairs

RSS

The new dawn of control orders-lite

The cynics were right. Control orders were repackaged and rebranded and it worked: the Lib Dems cave

Those of us of a cynical bent were, as usual, proved right. Control orders haven't been scrapped or "replaced" -- they have been rebranded, rebadged and repackaged. Officially, they're now called "Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures" but I agree with those who call them "control orders-lite".

Alex Deane of Big Brother Watch, who once worked as chief of staff to a younger David Cameron, has sent me his eloquent and erudite response and it is worth quoting in full:

Certainly, they have been watered down and renamed. But, while any dilution of these oppressive and unjustifiable orders is to be welcomed, their continuation is completely wrong. The orders, now replaced with "Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures", or -- and this just trips off the tongue -- "Tpims", are control orders with a cosmetic makeover. Yvette Cooper is right. What's been announced today is not the much-heralded (and promised) end of control orders -- rather, the government has simply modified control orders -- meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Control orders were introduced when the courts stopped the government of the day imprisoning suspected foreign terrorists who could not be deported. That was the explicit justification for them given to parliament. But, today, all the "controlees" are British. So what's the justification for them now?

The current 16-hour curfews will be replaced by an "overnight residence requirement", typically of between eight and ten hours. And 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", which -- depending on what will be considered to be "new evidence" -- is welcome.

But, in many ways, the new orders are worse than [what we have] at present. These powers will no longer need to be reviewed every year -- plainly restrictions against those labelled terrorists without any sight of the evidence against them are now permanent. Furthermore, the "overnight stays", which might sound like a nice school trip but aren't, will be monitored using electronic tags. And the rest of the package of unpleasantness is still at hand if the powers at be want to wield them: curfews and further restrictions on communications, association and movement could all be brought in as part of "exceptional emergency measures", the Home Office said.

The injustice remains. The violation of the presumption of innocence remains. No matter how serious a judge claims things to be or how gravely he shakes his head, no assurance from a judicial source should be regarded as an acceptable substitute for a proper trial process. A judge is no substitute for a jury. It is simply never acceptable for the word of a servant of the state to be enough to lock you up -- no matter how senior or supposedly well-informed he may be. There has to be an external, verifiable, testable validation process that stands between the state accusing you and incarcerating you. In this country, we have established an excellent system of doing that: it's called a trial.

So, nobody will be fooled by this childish slight of hand -- except, perhaps, the Lib Dems, because none are so blind as those who will not see -- they can now pretend that they haven't broken their manifesto commitment.

But, of course, they have. Again. And, this time, they can't blame the deficit or the financial crisis or Greece or whatever else they've blamed in the past. The 2010 Lib Dem manifesto is clear. On page 94, it says:

We believe that the best way to combat terrorism is to prosecute terrorists, not give away hard-won British freedoms. That is why we will:

- Reach out to the communities most at risk of radicalisation to improve
the relationships between them and the police and increase the fl ow
of intelligence.
- Scrap control orders, which can use secret evidence to place people
under house arrest.

As I asked, in a Guardian piece last month: "The question the Liberal Democrats have to ask themselves is this: if they are not for liberty, then what are they for?"