Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights (Seventeenth Report): Bringing Human Rights Back In - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

7  Conclusion

118. In May 2009, the Secretary of State for Justice was reported in the press as having indicated, in a public lecture at Clifford Chance, that UK counter-terrorism laws built up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York and the 7/7 attacks on London should be reviewed and may need to be scaled back.[87] He is reported to have said

    There is a case for going through all counterterrorism legislation and working out whether we need it. It was there for a temporary period.

119. When the Prime Minister was asked at the Liaison Committee whether he agreed with his Secretary of State's reported comments that the time had come for a fundamental review of counter-terrorism legislation, he said that "there is always a case for consolidation". Disappointingly, however, he interpreted the question as asking whether there was any longer any need for counter-terrorism legislation.[88]

120. In our view, the question is not whether counter-terrorism legislation is needed at all, but whether the counter-terrorism legislation that we have got is justified and proportionate in the light of the most up to date information about the nature and scale of the threat we face from terrorism. What is needed is not consolidation, but a thoroughgoing, evidence-based review of the necessity for, and proportionality of, all the counter-terrorism legislation passed since 11 September 2001. That review should be carried out in the light of evidence of how it has worked in practice and the reasons why it is said to remain necessary and proportionate in the circumstances in which we find ourselves today.

121. Such a review could take a number of forms. We are not advocating an internal Home Office review of counter-terrorism legislation of the kind conducted by the Government in 2004. Nor do we think that a review of the scale we envisage should be conducted by a single individual such as the statutory reviewer of terrorism legislation. One possibility would be to appoint a national version of the ICJ's Eminent Jurists' Panel, comprising experienced and distinguished lawyers. In our view, however, it is important that the body which conducts the review has a degree of democratic legitimacy and we therefore prefer the review to be carried out by a body of parliamentarians. The Canadian Senate Review Committee on the Anti-Terrorism Legislation provides an interesting precedent.[89] It conducted evidence hearings, heard from a variety of witnesses and produced a well-regarded and substantial report reviewing the necessity for Canada's anti-terrorism legislation. Alternatively, the Committee of Privy Counsellors ("the Newton Committee"), which produced the widely praised report on the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001,[90] could be reconvened for the purpose, or a similar Committee of Privy Counsellors be created for the purpose, or an ad hoc joint committee if both Houses saw fit.

122. Whatever precise form the review body might take, in our view, the case is made out for a fundamental parliamentary review of the necessity and proportionality of all counter-terrorism laws passed since 2001. We recommend that this be treated as an urgent priority by the next Parliament.

87   "Terror laws built up after 9/11 and 7/7 may be scaled back, says Jack Straw", The Guardian, 13 May 2009. Back

88   Oral evidence taken before the Liaison Committee on 2 February 2010, HC (2009-10) 346-i, Q72 Back

89   Fundamental Justice in Extraordinary Times: Main Report of the Special Senate Committee on the Anti-Terrorism Act (February 2007).The Special Committee of the Canadian Senate was appointed to undertake a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Back

90   Privy Councillor Review Committee, Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 Review: Report, HC 100 (December 2003). Back

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