Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 26th October 2005.

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Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Labour, Sunderland South 4:45 pm, 26th October 2005

Indeed. That brings me to the point made by Mr. Hogg. Courts may find it difficult to convict on the basis of admissions or accusations that emerge after 20, 30, 40 or 50 days in custody. That may be an unintended consequence of the measure and may lead to some people walking free who should not do so. I take no comfort from the safeguard that a district judge should approve detention at regular intervals. I have a little experience in this area and, in the past, many members of the judiciary, both senior and junior, have proved remarkably gullible in believing whatever nonsense was put before them by the Crown and, in some cases, by the police. The words "national security" have only to be breathed for some district judges, magistrates and even High Court judges to roll over and have their tummies tickled. With the best will in the world, it is difficult for a judge, however senior, to turn down a request from a Crown prosecutor who tells him that the detention order is essential and that the world could be blown up tomorrow unless he renews it.

I remember a former Bow street stipendiary magistrate, a man of great experience, saying on his retirement that he could not recall a single instance in 30 years of a policeman in the witness box exaggerating in the slightest. I accept that things have changed a little, but that gives a flavour of the difficulties that we will encounter if we let district judges deal with the problem. The Home Secretary will concede that it must be a High Court judge at least. Indeed, that must be one of the concessions in my right hon. Friend's back pocket, and it would be nice if he conceded the point in the Commons rather than the other place.

Some say that we should place our trust in experts, and that the experts who track down terrorists have a complex job, so we should listen to whatever advice they give us. I certainly listen with respect to anyone who has that difficult job, whether they are in the police or the security services, but I do not endorse blindly or automatically whatever they say, because in years gone by experts have been known to be spectacularly wrong in terrorism cases and other matters. In the mid 1970s—the situation then has a bearing on today's situation —they caught the wrong people for all the main terrorist bombings. A total of 18 people were wrongly arrested. Some of those experts and High Court judges still argue in private that all the people who were captured in the '70s were guilty. They are still in self-denial and labour under a massive illusion. My message is therefore, "Put not thy faith entirely in experts."

I hope that we will not go down the American road.