x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UK overhauls anti-terror laws to jeers of opposition

'Control orders' have merely been rebranded, say critics, as Labour Party calls Conservatives' terrorism laws review 'muddled'.

LONDON // The government published its long-awaited overhaul of the UK's antiterrorism laws yesterday, and critics say officials were tinkering greatly but altering little.

Opposition MPs guffawed as Home Secretary Theresa May told the House of Commons that controversial "control orders" - effectively a form of house arrest lasting up to 16 hours a day - would be abolished.

But she added that, in their stead, "overnight residence requirements" would be introduced, which would mean suspected terrorists could not move out of their homes for up to 10 hours a day.

Only eight men, all suspected Islamic terrorists who have not been convicted of any offences, are the subject of control orders, which also ban them from using the internet and other forms of communication, as well as limiting their freedom of association.

The Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in the coalition government that came to power last May, vowed to scrap control orders on civil liberties grounds.

Yesterday's proposals to replace them with the "Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures" dismayed many backbench Liberal Democrats and were ridiculed by opposition Labour MPs.

Mrs May maintained that the new measures would be more clearly targeted and would allow suspects greater freedom of communication and association. They will, for instance, be able to use the internet, but only with passwords supplied by the security services.

Asked if she accepted that the new measures would still restrict civil liberties, Mrs May replied: "What I accept is that, sadly, there are a small number of cases where we are not able to prosecute people but we do need to take measures to maintain national security and keep people safe.

"The threat from terrorism remains serious and complex, and I have always said that this government's first priority is to protect public safety and national security.

"But for too long, the balance between security and British freedoms has not been the right one. The measures we are announcing today will restore our civil liberties while still allowing the police and security services to protect us."

But Yvette Cooper, Labour's shadow home secretary, described the terror laws review as "muddled in formation and chaotic in announcement".

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the civil liberties group Liberty, said the government had "bottled it".

"Spin and semantics aside, control orders are retained and re-branded, if in a slightly lower-fat form," she said.

"As before, the innocent may be punished without a fair hearing and the guilty will escape the full force of criminal law. This leaves a familiar, bitter taste.

"Parliament must now decide whether the final flavour will be of progress, disappointment or downright betrayal."

dsapstead@thenational.ae