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Blair plans law that will make it a criminal offence to criticise government policy

Sunday Herald

SWEEPING new emergency legal powers to deal with the aftermath of a large terrorist attack in Britain are being considered by the government.

The measures could potentially outlaw participation in a protest march, such as last week's demonstrations during President Bush's state visit, making it, in effect, a criminal offence to criticise government policy.

In an attempt to give the UK government similar powers to those rushed through in the US after the 9/11 attack on New York in 2001, it is understood that a beefed-up version of current civil contingencies law is being considered. It will allow the government to bypass or suspend key parts of the UK's human rights laws without the authority of parliament.

In the US, the Patriot Act has been widely condemned by civil rights groups throughout the US. Many lawyers have blamed the Patriot Act as an excuse for eroding civil rights that dated back to the founding principles of the US constitution.

That the UK government is considering seeking similar power in a crisis situation indicates the heightened level of concern following the terrorist bombings in Istanbul.

The new powers would only come into force if a state of emergency was proclaimed with the authority of the sovereign. The government, if the new measures were introduced, would be able to prohibit any assembly or activity it believed threatened national security. However, government legal sources have urged that any new laws in such a sensitive area would not be forced through without widespread consultation.

Aware of the current level of scare-mongering following the Istanbul bombing and the threats made by al-Qaeda-linked groups that further suicide attacks were being planned on targets both in the UK and abroad, a source close to the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, last night denied his department were seeking a massive and immediate injection of cash from the Treasury. This would be needed to foot the bill if Britain's streets were to be flooded with armed police in an almost constant level of red alert.

Despite Blunkett saying he was "sick and tired" of people pretending there was not a threat from terrorists and insisting only "very, very good intelligence would save us", the Home Office seems to have no plan to boost security spending this or next year.

If "Fortress Britain" were to be achieved, with countrywide security checks, increased police surveillance and widespread detention of any suspect group or individual, the Home Office's annual budget would rocket.

The Home Office source said: "We have absolutely no plans, advanced or otherwise, for seeking a level of increased spending. And we haven't even begun to think about next year."
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