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Blunkett to Enact PreCrime Terror Law

London Evening Standard | Feb 02 2004


Home Secretary David Blunkett today unveiled far-reaching and controversial plans to tighten Britain's anti-terrorism laws.

He wants terror suspects to go on trial in secret, lower the burden of proof and bring in "pre-emptive" charges - before a crime is actually committed.

Mr Blunkett put himself on a collision course with human rights groups, the judiciary and many in his own party with proposals he says are needed to combat al Qaeda and the threat of suicide bombings.

The plans would put suspects on trial using MI5 or MI6 intelligence of an expected terror attack. This would be enough to convict if found to be true "on the balance of probabilities", rather than "beyond reasonable doubt".

Suspects would be tried behind closed doors, in case "sensitive" evidence leaked out, and represented by state-appointed, securityvetted lawyers banned from disclosing much of the evidence. The moves would far surpass any powers taken at the height of the IRA's mainland campaign in the 1970s.

Mr Blunkett wants to combine current anti-terror legislation with special powers he took to lock up indefinitely non-Britons suspected of terror plots.

He hopes to "address the issues before the general election".

Opponents will point out that there was no mention of such plans in Labour's manifesto, and that there has been no known pressure for the moves from the police .

The Home Secretary says that, because suicide bombers are not deterred from committing attacks by being jailed afterwards, they have to be dealt with in advance.

"I think we need to debate how we can amalgamate the Terrorism Act 2000 and the 2001 terrorism legislation, and deal with these delicate issues of proportionality and human rights on the one hand, and evidential base and the threshold of evidence on the other," Mr Blunkett said.

"That is quite a challenge because we are having to say that what people obtain through the security and intelligence route is different to the evidence gained through the policing route. It needs to be presented in a way that doesn't allow disclosure by any of the parties involved."

Mr Blunkett spoke while touring India, where he held talks with officials about anti-terrorism measures in the sub-continent, and said he plans to publish a "discussion paper" when he returns home. But today he faced an onslaught of criticism from human rights groups.

Mark Littlewood, of Liberty, said: "Simply introducing more laws, greater powers and stiffer penalties will go a long way to undermining British justice and will not make our country any safer."

Neil Durkin, of Amnesty International, said: " We would be extremely concerned at any further erosion of the right to receive a fair trial in the UK in the name of ' combating terrorism'."

A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain said: "It does not inspire confidence that a lot of this will be based on evidence from intelligence sources, in light of the intelligence blunders over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
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