الإثنين , يونيو 15 2020

Terrorism Bill 'needs to be changed'

Armed police officers stand on duty outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, central London November 24, 2014There are fears that Britain could be the victim of an extremist attack like that seen in France

The government’s counter-terrorism bill needs to be changed to protect the rights of UK citizens, Parliament’s human rights watchdog says.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights is concerned about plans to block UK terror suspects returning to Britain.

Ministers said the powers will be used when “necessary and proportionate”.

Prime Minister David Cameron will meet security chiefs later to discuss how to defend Britain against terrorist attacks like those in France last week.

The bill is due for its second reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday and comes amid fears that Britain could be the victim of a terrorist attack like those seen in France last week, which left 17 victims dead.

Hundreds of British Islamists are thought to have travelled to Syria to fight, and the Bill includes statutory temporary exclusion orders to control the return of UK citizens suspected of terrorist activity.

However, the human rights committee – which is made up of MPs and peers – is concerned that this would violate the human rights of British nationals even if it were enforced on a temporary basis.

It said a simpler system would be for suspects to provide advance warning of their return to the UK on pain of criminal penalty if they failed to do so.

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Analysis

By Gordon Corera, BBC security correspondent

The meeting on Monday with security and intelligence chiefs is being described as an operational briefing, focusing on events in France and ensuring that every step necessary is being taken to prevent anything similar happen here.

As well as looking at protective security measures in the UK, there may also be an attempt to understand if there are any lessons to be learnt from the French decision to drop surveillance over the two Kouachi brothers six months ago when, reportedly, they were not judged an imminent danger.

The issue of surveillance of communications – which has been politically contentious in the UK – may also arise.

In a speech last week, the head of MI5 Andrew Parker warned that the security service was seeing a growing threat from crude as well as more sophisticated mass casualty plots.

He also said his greatest concern was a widening gap between this threat and a diminishing ability to intercept communications, as people turned to new internet based technology.

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Challenging times

The committee said plans for universities to be required to prevent people being drawn into extremism was riddled with legal uncertainty and it was concerned about the “implications for both freedom of expression and academic freedom”.

It recommended that universities should be removed from a list of institutions required to counter radicalisation.

And it said the government had demonstrated that it was necessary to take passports away from those it suspects may travel abroad to fight, but the power must not be used disproportionately.

The chair of the human rights committee, Labour MP Dr Hywel Francis, said: “Recent events in Paris make clear the challenging times in which we live and the need for government to carry out their function of fighting terrorism and assuring the security of their people.

“We are satisfied that in some areas there are gaps in the government’s counter-terrorism powers but some of the powers proposed in this Bill require extra safeguards – so that they are not used unreasonably, and to permit individuals affected to challenge them where there are grounds to do so.

“We should never forget that these are exceptional powers which could be mistakenly used against any of us, and in a civilised democracy there must always be processes for subjecting the claims of the state to independent scrutiny.”

Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire commented that the bill “represents a considered and targeted response to the very serious and rapidly changing threats we face.

“These important new powers will only be used when it is necessary and proportionate and are subject to stringent safeguards and oversight.

“We believe the Bill strikes the right balance in strengthening security whilst protecting civil liberties. We will give careful consideration to the Committee’s report.”

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