Is “42 days” a ruse for something else?

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Say what you like about the Labour government, they are experts at the art of splitting the difference. Even when they lose, by and large they win. For example, the existing rules on allowing terrorist suspects to be locked up for 28 days without charge was a “compromise” eked out of the last time they tried getting their 90 days proposal through.

It looks as if the Labour backbenchers are in no mood to fall for that one again and enough of them will join the Lib Dems and Tories to block the 42 days proposal. But is that the whole story? I was not, for example, previously aware that the counter-terrorism bill included scope for Home Secretaries to ban coroner juries with a stroke of a pen in the interests of “national security“. It sounds like a dreadful idea, but in the kerfuffle over 42 days, how much attention will be paid to it? And for that matter, how many other clauses in this bill are we likely to be concerned about?

Could it be that Jacqui Smith is prepared to lose “42 days” so long as the debate surrounding it succeeds in obscuring all the other bad laws she intends to get through the backdoor? Scrutiny in the Lords can only block so much.

5 thoughts on “Is “42 days” a ruse for something else?

  1. Given how unpopular detention without charge is, and given the huge embarrassment caused by a government defeat in the commons, I can’t quite think that Jacqui Smith would see 42 days as a fair tradeoff for the right to ban coroner juries. It’s a heck of a gamble. I suspect that it’s just the obvious going on: Labour really believe in long periods of pre-charge detention, and want to extend the limit as close as possible to 90 days. If they can sneak in other measures at the same time, I’m sure they’ll be very happy, but I think the current proposals should be taken at face value, rather than as an elaborate diversionary tactic.

  2. I’m not saying the whole thing is an elaborate diversionary tactic, merely that Smith knows 42 days is a gamble and while she would obviously like to get it through, she might have calculated it might be an idea to force through a lot of other stuff beneath the radar at the same time. It’s always useful to keep an ace up your sleeve.

    On the other hand, I fully accept that may be crediting her with more political ability than she has thus far demonstrated.

  3. I’d agree with that last sentiment!

    Did you hear her amazing interview on the Today Programme last week? (I wish I’d blogged about it, but I downloaded it a couple of days late, by which time it wasn’t really news.)

    Interviewer: (accuses Jacqui Smith of legislating for hypothetical cases rather than reality, regarding 42-day detention)

    JS: I think that if in the future, in exceptional circumstances, a case could be made that there is an operation, an investigation, a certain number of multiple plots, a really difficult situation in which the police and the director of public prosecutions want to be able to apply to a judge to decide whether or not they could hold somebody for longer, that we need to find a way to facilitate that in those circumstances.

    Interviewer: But if that’s not a hypothetical case, then what is?

    JS: Well, it won’t be hypothetical if and when it occurs.

    Interviewer: (collapses laughing)

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