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Homeland Security


Britain Seeks to Extend Detention for Terror Suspects

By Tendai Maphosa
03 June 2008

Britain's Home Secretary is formally proposing to amend existing laws to allow the government to extend the amount of time it can hold terrorism suspects without charge from 28 days to 42 days. The measure has proved very controversial and some ruling Labor party members of parliament have threatened to vote against the proposal next week. Tendai Maphosa reports from London.

Despite the controversy surrounding the proposed amendments, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is moving ahead, but stressing safeguards, in an effort to bring skeptics around.

Speaking on British television before presenting the proposed amendments to parliament she said detention without formal charges would only be extended in cases that pose grave and exceptional terrorist threats.

"We've said this should be only be a power that should be in place for a limited period of time and we are looking at limiting that period even further," she said.

Britain already has laws that allow the authorities to hold terrorism suspects for 28 days without charge. The government now says that is sometimes not long enough for the police to collect and sort all the necessary evidence to build a case.

Those opposed to extending the deadline to 42 days say it further infringes on individual civil liberties.

Mindful of the opposition to the proposal, Smith says specific approval by a judge would be required in individual cases.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has lent his strong support to the proposal. Speaking to reporters on Monday, he said the sheer volume of ongoing investigations justifies the extended detention.

"The evidence is that our security services are pursuing and having to identify around 2,000 terrorists at the moment they are dealing with about 30 potential plots and they are dealing with about 200 networks and the last case that came before the courts involved the police in having to examine 400 separate computers, 8,000 discs and 25,000 exhibits," he said.

The threat of terror attacks remains very real for the British. Almost three years ago, on July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks on London's transport system killed more than 50 people and injured hundreds more. Authorities say over a dozen plots have been foiled since then.

The government has been working to secure the support of skeptical lawmakers from its own Labor Party. But, some remain against the extension. Some lawmakers from the opposition Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties are also expected to vote against the proposal. The government hopes, however, it has made enough concessions by including specific safeguards for the bill to be voted into law.

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