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I now move on to deal with pre-charge detentionanother key area of controversy. The Government propose to increase the maximum period of time that a person can be held prior to charge in terrorist cases from 14 days to three months. We believe that there is a compelling case, which is strongly supported by the police.
"I am satisfied beyond doubt that there have been situations in which significant conspiracies to commit terrorist acts have gone unprosecuted as a result of the time limitations placed on the control authorities following arrest".
That is a strong statement, which I greatly respect. The case for an extension to three months was set out very clearly in my letter of 6 October to Opposition spokespeople and in the accompanying paper from assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, the nation's most senior anti-terrorist police officer.
Much of our anti-terrorist legislation derives from our experience of dealing with 30 years of Irish terrorism, but the fact is that we are dealing with a very different threat now and we believe that the current time limit is not well designed to deal with that new threat. Recent terrorist plots have been designed to cause mass casualties, with no warnings, sometimes involving suicide and with the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, to which Lord Ashdown referred last Monday in the quote that I cited earlier. The need to ensure public safety by preventing such attacks means that it is necessary to make arrests at an earlier stage than in the past, when there was a culture of warnings and where weapons of mass destruction did not exist as now. That often means that less evidence has been gathered at the point of arrest, which means that more time will be needed to gather sufficient evidence to charge a suspect.
Terrorist networks are often internationalanother difference in the evolution of the threat that we face. That means that inquiries have to be undertaken in many different jurisdictions and under different rules. Many of those cannot operate to tight time scales. Moreover, establishing the identity or even the nationality of suspects can take a long time and the use of forged and stolen documentation compounds the problem. The global nature of modern terrorism means that it is often necessary to employ interpreters. It is sometimes necessary to find interpreters who can interpret dialects from remote parts of the world. Such interpreters can be hard to find, which, together with interviews to be translated, slows down the process and restricts the amount of time available.
Terrorist cases are also highly complex. I remind the House that investigations into the events of 7 and 21 July yielded 38,000 exhibits that filled two warehouses, all of which need to be scrutinised. The same investigations required 80,000 videos of CCTV footage to be studied and 1,400 fingerprints across 160 crime scenes. As I said earlier, terrorist networks are now highly capable of using technology. In recent cases, a large numbersometimes in the hundredsof computers and hard drives have been seized and much of the data on those computers have been encrypted. The examination and decryption of data on such computers and hard drives takes time and expertise; then, of course, the data need to be analysed in order to incorporate the outcome of the analysis into an interview strategy.
Forensic requirements are still more complex and time consuming, particularly with the possibility of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear hazards. It often takes a long time to make a site safe before it can be examined. That applied in the case of the London attacks in July, and the al-Qaeda methodology of mounting simultaneous attacks extends the time taken for proper crime scene examination and analysis.
The use of mobile telephony by terrorists, as a secure means of communication, is, by definition, a relatively new phenomenon. It takes time to obtain information from service providers and subsequently to analyse that information to identify links between suspects and their locations at key times.
For all those reasons, I believe that a strong case exists for increasing the maximum detention period. I stress that we are talking about a maximum period. Very few cases currently run to 14 days and we would expect an even smaller proportion to run beyond that. The safeguards that exist are designed to ensure that no one is kept for any longer than absolutely necessary.
Mr. Clarke: I have already said that I will give way at an appropriate point in my speech, and I repeat that. I am sorry if the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) is a little deaf.
All detention beyond 48 hours will have to be authorised on at least a weekly basis by a district judge. The judge can permit detention to continue only if he is satisfied that it is necessary and that the investigation is being carried out as expeditiously as possible. If that is not the case, the person must be released. I have said publicly to the Select Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen that I am ready to consider in Standing Committee the case for such authorisations to be made by a senior circuit judge, as recommended by Lord Carlile. As now, the independent reviewer of our terrorism legislation will be able to monitor the use of this power and report any concerns that he or she may have. I shall give way at this point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
Many of us who practise in the criminal courts are aware of the danger of confessions made after extensive questioning. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why the protections of PACE were put in place. With 90 daysor, indeed, any extended period of detentionduring which people are questioned for many days after they have been held in custody, there is a serious risk of their making confessions that are not sound. Alternatively, they may make accusations against other people that are not sound. They will do so, of course, in order to get out of custody. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider that point?
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Mr. Clarke: That precise risk, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly identifies, will be taken into account by the courts when they come to consider any charges. The circumstances under which such risks might arise will also be taken into account by the judge who considers the police application for holding a person for a longer period.
Mr. Grieve: If the Home Secretary is going to continue with the line of having 90 days' detention, are we not going to need a completely separate set of PACE rules to cover detention beyond the 14-day period? It would be helpful to the House if he could confirm that he has given some consideration to that matter.
Mr. Mullin: I cannot for the life of me imagine why we have uncritically accepted the 90-day period and I am sure that the police are as amazed as we are that the Government so quickly endorsed their first throw of the dice. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, so far, no one has been detained for the full 14 days? I think that two were held for 13 days. If so, how can such a large leap from 14 to 90 days be so urgent?
Mr. Clarke: In general, I respect my hon. Friend's contribution to the debate, including the article that he recently published, but I do not respect his argument about the approach of the police. They were not throwing dice; they do not approach the matter in a gambling way; they are not trying to put forward some hazard. They are trying to make a serious assessment while legislation is being considered in the House of the time that they are likely to need in certain extreme circumstances. They may be right or wrong and people may reach a view as to whether they have made their case well, but it is nothing to do with gambling. The reason why a small number of cases have not exceeded 14 days is precisely because of the 14-day requirement.
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