By Mike Rowley
The tragicomic saga of the Terror Bill has come to an end at last, after a marathon 31-hour session of the House of Commons. The Bill was passed in amended form, Labour MPs complaining, in a display of grotesque school-boy irony, of being held under “house arrest” in order to ensure the government’s majority.
Two major concessions were made to the Bill’s critics: “higher level” control orders (house arrest, breaching the Human Rights Act) will have to be made by a judge, and the Commons will get the chance to debate repeal of the new Act, along with whatever other draconian proposals the Government has come up with by then, in a year’s time.
However, the Home Secretary will still be able to impose “lower level” control orders, involving restrictions on communication, association and movement, on his or her own initiative, needing only to be confirmed by a judge within seven days. The opponents of the Bill lost their battle on the standard of proof when the Tories, those great friends of liberty, opportunistically dropped it.
The standard of proof is not just a dry legal issue. It is very important. A higher standard of proof — “the balance of probabilities” — means a control order could only be imposed if there was thought to be at least a 51% chance that the suspect was a terrorist.
Even that is only the standard for civil cases. The standard of proof in criminal prosecutions is “beyond all reasonable doubt”.
But now the Home Secretary can impose a control order, imprisoning someone indefinitely in their own home, even if a judge — and for that matter, the Home Secretary himself — thinks that person is probably not a terrorist.
This is a paranoid “just in case” law. “Security” comes first, human rights second. That is an entirely wrong set of priorities. This law must be resisted with all the means at our disposal.