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|Amendment to CCB Bill Would Detain UK Citizens Without Trial
SWEEPING new powers to tackle the threat from international terrorism - which could go as far as extending internment without trial to UK citizens - will be demanded by Home Secretary David Blunkett this week.
It is understood Blunkett wants existing powers to detain foreign terror suspects without trial to be extended to all British subjects. The Draconian move could result in Britons who fall under suspicion spending years in jail without charges.
Another controversial proposal is for police to be given the right to detain anyone in the 'vicinity' of a suspected bioterrorist attack.
The new powers will be introduced as amendments to the already controversial Civil Contingencies Bill (CCB).
The bill - which gives the authorities new powers to deal with civil emergencies and terrorist attacks - already proposes giving police the right to impose no-go areas, destroy private property without compensation and ban peaceful protests.
But the expected Home Office list of amendments goes much further, opening up the prospect of internment without trial for British citizens.
A government source said last night: "A number of departments, including Health, have been advised of the plans to put down amendments to the bill. The issue of detention is something that will be covered by the amendments."
Civil rights groups believed they had fought off the most serious threats to human rights contained in the government's original anti-terror proposals, presented last summer.
They believe Blunkett is making a second attempt to introduce the legislation he originally wanted in the wake of the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The laws introduced since then have allowed 14 suspected international terrorists to be held in high security prisons under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act.
Most have been in prison for almost two years, although they have not been charged and no evidence against them has been put before the courts.
The law only applies to foreign nationals and UK citizens presently still enjoy the traditional protection against detention without trial.
At present the police must charge anyone they have arrested within a maximum of 48 hours - even for terrorist-related offences - or obtain court permission to hold them longer, or let them go.
Wider application of measures currently reserved for international terrorist suspects would give the authorities the right to round up British terror suspects in an emergency and lock them up without explaining themselves to the courts.
The Home Office has also been studying the legal case for the enforced quarantine of residents in the vicinity of major incidents to prevent wider contamination of dangerous substances including chemical weapons.
Barry Hugill, of civil rights group Liberty, said: "The government has already tried to limit the right to a fair trial under its civil contingency proposals. I think we can be sure that David Blunkett will not be looking to weaken the proposals in the bill, and any attempt to extend powers of detention would be a very worrying development.
"At a time when we are talking about bringing Britons back from Guantanamo Bay, where there is no due process or rule of law, we find ourselves facing a similar threat in this country."
The government's original security proposals allowed for the suspension of basic human rights in a time of emergency.
It was intended that the activities of police, politicians and other public authorities could not be challenged under human rights law during an emergency. The effect of the original bill would also have been to allow house arrest and detention without trial.
But these plans were watered down after objections from legal experts, including David Bonner, a senior lecturer in law at Leicester University.
He said: "If the government desires such powers to meet extreme contingencies they should be contained in a separate Act clearly defining the circumstances in which resort might by proclamation be had to such a regime."
Lewis Moonie, the former defence minister who chaired the inquiry into the government's original proposals, and forced ministers to drop the more draconian measures, said he was surprised that Blunkett was planning changes already.
The Kirkcaldy MP said: "There was nothing unexpected in the final Bill other than the number of concessions they made. You always hope the government will see sense, but you are still surprised when they do.
"They made huge changes to the definition of emergency. They might get any amendments through the Commons but they will have a fight when it goes to the Lords."
Supporters of the crackdown on Britain's own would-be terrorists point to the case of Richard Reid, the Londoner who attempted to bring down an Air France jet en route to Miami two years ago. Reid was travelling with a British passport.
Government spokesmen insist that the new powers afforded by the proposals in the bill will be used sensibly to protect the public rather than infringe their rights.