LONDON – The British government Tuesday asked for renewed powers to detain terrorist suspects without trial, but said there was no immediate need to put anyone under house arrest.
The government needs the legislation on the statute book by March 14, when a current law allowing the government to jail foreign terror suspects indefinitely without trial expires.
The statement by Home Secretary Charles Clarke (search) on the proposed anti-terrorist legislation suggested that 10 people now held in prison may soon be released.
Although Britain faces a continuing threat from Al Qaeda (search) and allied terrorists, Clarke said, police and the security services have advised that other control measures are adequate and that house arrest is not warranted at this time.
Britain's highest court has declared the current law illegal. Britain is currently holding 10 terrorist suspects from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan in prison. These measures apply only to citizens of foreign countries who cannot be safely deported.
David Davis, speaking for the opposition Conservative Party, said there was no emergency which justified rushing the legislation through Parliament.
Davis said Clarke had "settled on the wrong answer," and would sacrifice principles of justice without enhancing security.
But Clarke said the bill "needs to be seen in the context of the scale of the continuing and serious threat to the U.K. from terrorism."
"Let no one be in any doubt that there are terrorists here and abroad that want to attack the U.K. and its interests," he said.
"Some believe that the absence in this country of a terrorist outrage like 9/11 or Madrid means that the terrorist threat has somehow passed us by or failed to materialize.
"That view is shortsighted, complacent, ignorant of the facts and potentially cavalier of the safety of this country."
The government insists that it needs new powers that would also include electronic tagging, curfews, bans on meeting certain people and using the Internet, to safeguard Britain from terrorism.
Clarke sought to reassure critics, and said terror suspects would be allowed to appeal to a senior judge, who could overturn the government's so-called "control order" within seven days.
"Whatever the form of control order there should be a system of judicial review and appeal of whatever decision the home secretary takes," Clarke told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"If there were a question of deprivation of liberty ... it should automatically go to a high court judge who would have the ability to go right through all the considerations that the home secretary had come to, and to overturn the judgment within seven days," he added.