Britain shakes up counter-terrorism powers

26th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

The British government said Wednesday it would water down controversial measures allowing it to hold terror suspects under virtual house arrest, after a widespread review of counter-terrorism laws.

Home Secretary Theresa May also confirmed plans to reduce the amount of time terror suspects can be held without charge from 28 to 14 days, and said police powers to stop and search people with no evidence would be tightly restricted.

The announcements followed a six-month review of measures introduced by Tony Blair's Labour government in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, many of which had been denounced by rights groups.

"We reviewed counter-terrorism legislation because too much of it was excessive and unnecessary. At times it gave the impression of criminalising entire communities," May told the House of Commons.

She added: "The measures we are announcing today will restore our civil liberties while still allowing the police and security services to protect us."

A key plank of the system is control orders, which are imposed on suspects who are viewed as a threat but for whom there is not enough evidence to charge.

Currently imposed on eight people, they prevent suspects from going out at certain times, associating with certain people and in some cases using phones or computers -- which critics liken to house arrest.

May said they would be scrapped by the end of the year and replaced with more targeted "terrorism prevention and investigation measures", which would be limited to two years.

These would replace the current 16-hour curfews with an "overnight residence requirement" of up to 10 hours and give suspects greater freedom of association and communication.

May said she could not scrap the surveillance system altogether because there would always be "a small number of people who pose a real threat to our security, but who cannot currently be successfully prosecuted or deported".

However, rights group Liberty condemned the new measure as "semantics".

"We welcome movement on stop and search, 28-day detention and council snooping, but when it comes to ending punishment without trial, the government appears to have bottled it," said Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti.

© 2011 AFP

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