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Jeremy Corbyn

I more or less entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission courts involve that concept of the special advocate who does not know—or, rather, may well know but cannot share with his client, the defendant—what the charges are against that person, and how the defence is to be mounted. Franz Kafka wrote about such circumstances extensively and with great passion. It is possible that descendants of Franz Kafka are working away in the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office or some grubby basement somewhere.

We are talking about the creation of a miasma of untrustworthy or untrustable sources. There might be a case against an individual, but that individual does not know what it is. His advocate might know what it is, but cannot tell him and can say only, “Do not worry—I will try and get you off. You want to know what you are charged with? Oh, I cannot tell you that.” Hello? Let us get real. If we believe in a proper judicial process, let us practise a proper judicial process.

I feel very reluctant to support any anti-terror law that departs from the principle that anyone who has been charged must know what the charge is, must be able to defend himself against that charge, and must be either found guilty or acquitted, depending on what evidence is presented and what the court decides at the end of the process. That principle, surely, is the best defence of a free society. Departing from it weakens a free society and damages all of us.

It is disappointing that the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis), is not present to comment on its report. I want to make three brief points about the summary. The Committee calls on the Government to

“urgently review all existing control orders to ensure they are compatible with the findings”,

but it was not clear to me from the Minister’s earlier contribution whether that had happened, so perhaps he will tell us in summing up.

One of the other Select Committee recommendations was:

“The Director of Public Prosecutions should be asked to consider whether a criminal investigation is justified in relation to each of the eight individuals subject to existing control orders”.

Again, I am not clear whether that has happened. I apologise if I missed something the Minister said, but I would be grateful if he would say what has happened in that respect.

The Select Committee also said:

“We do not accept the Government’s reasons for not providing this opportunity”—

for pre-legislative scrutiny—

“and recommend that it be published and made available to Parliament”.

If the Government have measures to introduce on control orders or anti-terror in general, that is clearly an important and major piece of legislation. This House has slowly and reluctantly dragged itself from the 18th century into the 19th and the 20th, and although we have not reached the 21st yet, we do have a process of pre-legislative scrutiny. Therefore, I think a Bill should be published as early as possible so that the House can thoroughly examine it and we can have a serious debate on it before it reaches the light of day. These are serious and important issues. We are talking not about just eight individuals’ lives, but the whole principle of a democratic and free society.

We put in place control orders, secret courts, special advocates and all kinds of special measures, and we have a Security Service that is not public and that is unaccountable. We also have charges that are unknown against individuals who do not know what the charges against them are. That creates a rather unpleasant Kafkaesque secrecy surrounding our society and our lives. It does not make us any safer, and it does not make the world any safer; actually, it contributes to making the world a more dangerous and precarious place.

I hope the Minister understands both my reasons for making these points and why many of us hold these views. It is reasonable and fine for him or the Secretary of State to ask for opinions and views from the security services and the police; of course they should ask for their views. They should also, however, ask for the views of the judiciary, advocates, civil liberties groups and the people who spend their whole lives trying to defend the civil liberties of all of us. Their views are equally legitimate and important.

— from debate entitled “Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

The three speeches/headings immediately before

  1. 1 earlier: Rehman Chishti

    The hon. Gentleman says that the accused should be allowed to know what the charge is. That brings into play the concept of special advocates who are given evidence behind closed doors and cannot take instructions from the accused, and hence the concept of not being given a fair hearing. On that basis, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the process involving special advocates should be reviewed, and that the concept of a fair hearing at which the accused can be given a chance to comment on the evidence must be right?

  2. 2 earlier: Jeremy Corbyn

    I am grateful for being called to speak and I am sorry that it looks as though there are not enough Members present to call a Division later. I personally believe that these are very serious matters and I have opposed control orders in the previous Parliament as well as in this one, so at least I have the benefit of consistency on this matter.

    I oppose control orders not because I have any truck with those who wish to set off bombs in the cities of this or any other country. Indeed, my borough lost more lives on 7/7 than any other London borough, and attending those funerals because of what happened on that day is not easily forgotten. My concern is that Parliament is again voting through provisions that give extraordinary powers to a Secretary of State, who is able to impose a control order on an individual without recourse to a due process of law.

    As the Minister said, these are people against whom no criminal charge could be brought and they cannot be deported, presumably because of the lack of convention applicability in the countries to which they might be deported. We do not know, of course, who these eight individuals are. I think that for Parliament to give such powers to any Secretary of State is an abdication of our responsibility for two reasons. First, the separation of judicial and political functions is central to the constitution and very important. We are not a court; we cannot put people on trial. We can pass laws, and it is for the courts

    to deal with them in a separate place. Secondly, if by this process we deny individuals access to any judicial process whatever and people are restricted and to some extent detained by Executive decision, that bypasses both ourselves as a Parliament and the independence of the courts. We should think very carefully about that.

    We are apparently dealing with eight individual cases and I have no idea who those eight people are. I do not propose to discuss any of those cases; that is not the point. The point is one of principle relating to what we as a Parliament are doing. If this measure is part of the war on terror, I ask Members to remember what the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) just said about the experience of internment in Northern Ireland. Indeed, for that matter, there is also the case of internment at the start of the second world war, when a large number of Jewish people were detained on the basis that they had German relatives. Of course they had German relatives: they had fled from Nazi Germany and came to this country to escape fascism, only to be promptly detained as suspects of fascism. I suspect that they found that experience deeply troubling and that it did not leave them for the rest of their lives. We need to reflect carefully on that.

    If an individual has an order placed against them, their movements, their liberties and their life opportunities will obviously be restricted. If an employer knows about it, as he probably will, the person concerned will be unlikely to keep his job. I suspect that many universities will be very reluctant to allow students in that position to remain there, and might refuse outright. The lives of such people are seriously harmed in many other ways

    Is this a fair thing to do? If there is evidence that an individual is manufacturing a bomb, planning to put a bomb on a plane, or planning to kill civilians for no obvious reason—indeed, to kill civilians in any circumstances—let a criminal charge be brought against them. We should bear it in mind that in Northern Ireland, internment became a recruiting sergeant for the IRA.

    Let us look at the issue on a wider scale. Let us consider the hundreds of thousands of young people who are wasting their lives away in refugee camps in Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and many other parts of the middle east. Do they feel that they have a democratic choice? Do they feel that they have a democratic right for the rest of their lives? No. They see the rest of the world vicariously, through television screens and computers. Does their experience make them respect a democratic process? Does it give them choices and opportunities? No. It is the breeding ground for irrational acts of criminal violence against civilians.

    The House cannot solve all those problems, but we can at least make two contributions. First, we can try to bring about peace and justice processes throughout the region concerned. Secondly, we can ensure that in this country we defend the democracy of an elected Parliament, defend the independence of the judiciary, do not allow Ministers to have powers to detain individuals without recourse to the courts or to an individual hearing, and allow such individuals to know what the charges against them are. We would condemn many other societies in which someone can visit an individual and say, “You are under suspicion; you are under arrest; you are under

    control”, and I think that we should be very cautious indeed about passing a law allowing that in the House of Commons.

  3. 3 earlier: Patrick Mercer

    The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. I am afraid that I am a victim of my own experience. He is absolutely right that the term is outdated.

    It was one that we used in the many tours that I served in Northern Ireland, but it is both wrong and probably insensitive, and I apologise.

    Whatever stamp of terrorist we were facing in Northern Ireland, that terrorist was deemed to be a criminal. There are methods that we can use to handle those criminals. They are not soldiers; they are criminals. Therefore, surely it is up to us to deal with them in the same way, using the rules of bail along with other methods that we use to surveille those of whom we are suspicious. We do not need to take these individuals’ liberties away from them.

    There are two points behind that idea. The first is that it is improper and undemocratic; the second is that it is plain damn silly. If we say to someone, “We are interested in you; we are surveilling you; we are keeping you under observation”, we immediately fail to harvest the intelligence that those individuals can give us. Not all of them are terribly clever, although some are, and many of them are very foolish, which is why they have fallen under suspicion in the first place. Foolishness, of course, should be aided and abetted by the security services because foolishness provides us with further clues and further evidence.

    I will not detain the House further. Despite my instincts, I will certainly support the Government tonight on the basis that I understand that future legislation needs time to mature and to be properly formulated. The fact remains that I hope that the Home Secretary and her Ministers will look most carefully at what is proposed so that in the future we will deal with our enemies not only in a democratic and proper way, but in a thoroughly practical one.

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