Lords debate Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill today

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill begins its final stages in the House of Lords today.  Despite repeat flurries of excitement as a coalition of Peers suggest time and again that most of the controversial Communications Data Bill – popularly known as the Snoopers’ Charter – might be a late-stage drop in;  the press has, perhaps regrettably, shown little interest in the Bill.

Today’s debate will see Peers pose further challenge to the limited judicial oversight proposed for passport seizure; over the role of judges in supervising TPIMs imposing enforced relocation and questions raised over the impact of the Bill on individuals working in humanitarian assistance in unstable and dangerous parts of the world. An important amendment will seek to limit the impact of new Ministerial powers to direct public agencies to take steps to implement the Government Prevent programme on the freedom of speech enjoyed by academic institutions.  Regrettably, a substantial part of the debate may see an attempt to introduce wholesale provisions to legalise the collection and retention of data about us all, without full parliamentary oversight.

JUSTICE is concerned that little justification has been provided for the treatment of this Bill as fast-track legislation. We have a number of substantive concerns about the scope of the Bill. Including:

  • The introduction of a police power to seize passports or other travel documents – including the documents of foreign travellers – has the potential to seriously impact on the rights of individuals in practice. The safeguards offered against arbitrary application, are in our opinion, few.
  • The Government’s plan to create an administrative power to bar British citizens and others with a right to return from entering the UK deserves close scrutiny. If the primary goal of our counter-terrorism policy is to protect the public, does forcing individuals to choose freedom in exile over controlled return serve this purpose in practice?  If we are aware that an individual is a risk, we know where they are and that they are seeking to return to our jurisdiction, would public safety and global security be better served by encouraging their return with a view to full investigation and prosecution of any relevant criminal offences?

JUSTICE’s Director of Human Rights Policy, Angela Patrick, has provided an update on the Bill’s progress for the UK Human Rights Blog today.

You can read the full briefing on JUSTICE’s concerns about the Bill and also read about our call for an entirely new legislative framework for surveillance law in a digital age in our publication Freedom from Suspicion (2011).