Britain scraps 28-day terror detention

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The British government said Thursday it will give up a controversial power that allows terror suspects to be held for 28 days without charge, after a major review of counter-terror measures.

Home Office Minister Damian Green told lawmakers that the order, which was introduced by the former Labour government but must be voted on every year, would not be extended when it expires at midnight on January 24.

It was due to be announced as part of a much anticipated counter-terrorism review, which will be published next Wednesday and will inform the government of Prime Minister David Cameron on its future policy.

"In the interim I can announce that the government will not be seeking to extend the order allowing the maximum 28 day limit," Green said.

"And accordingly the current order will lapse on January 25 and the maximum limit of pre-charge detention will from that time revert to 14 days."

He said emergency legislation would be drawn up, however, to allow the extention back to 28 days for "very exceptional circumstances".

"The government is clear that we need appropriate powers to deal with that threat (of terrorism) but those powers must not interfere with the hard-won civil liberties of the British people," he said.

The 28-day period was introduced by Tony Blair's Labour government in 2006 as part of a raft of a new counter-terrorism measures introduced in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Blair tried to extend the period to 90 days, sparking a huge rebellion among Labour lawmakers and causing his first defeat in the House of Commons.

Rights groups have campaigned hard to get the 28-day limit removed, arguing that it is illiberal and unneccessary for police work, and Shami Chakrabarti, director of the group Liberty, welcomed Thursday's announcement.

"A month's detention without knowing why is shamefully long for any democracy. The government is to be congratulated for reducing this period," she said.

The group is also calling for the scrapping of control orders, which are used to limit the movements of terror suspects through tagging, house arrest or curfews and will also be addressed in Wednesday's review.

© 2011 AFP

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