The Curious Significance of the 29th Day
Question Time (BBC1) usually generates more heat than light. But David Davis was on the panel last night and the discussion made his position on civil liberties clearer and reinforced my belief that his libertarian stance is bogus.
Like many others, I have previously pointed out the inconsistencies in his position and his dismal voting record where individual freedom is concerned.
But it emerged last night that he has no objection to detention without charge in principle, despite his constant references to Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus.
He supports detention for 28 days and voted for that.
But for some reason, being banged up for a month is OK but six weeks is so heinous that it's worth sacrificing your career for.
Of course, it's perfectly reasonable to debate the respective merits of 48 hours, 42 days or 90 days once you surrender the principle of no detention without charge. But if like Davis, you run around screaming Magna Carta! and Habeas Corpus! and talking about centuries-old inviolable principles of justice, it seems a bit bonkers if the actual battleground is over 14 days difference and if freedom only expires at 00.01 hours on the 29th day of detention.
This is not an argument about fundamental judicial principle but a quibble about precisely how long a fundamental judicial principle should be breached.
One further point: I think many people do not understand that detention without charge doesn't just mean that a suspect is not brought before a court and charged. It also means that the suspect does not have to be told what offence they are suspected of committing or what evidence against them exists.
One of the reasons for having to declare to a court "I have a body" and say why you are imprisoning that body is because it is impossible to defend yourself against a charge that is not revealed to you.
As Davis rightly says, at least 50% of suspects in terrorist cases are completely innocent of any crime. The question for those who support such legislation is whether they themselves would be content to be dragged from their beds in a dawn raid and incarcerated for a month or six weeks or three months (as Blair wanted) without any explanation of why this was happening.
That this argument seldom convinces authoritarians is down to 'It couldn't happen to me' syndrome (although that's not their mindset when they buy their Lottery tickets).
It so happens that I was told a story yesterday of a blameless Middle Englander who drove to a local beauty spot hereabouts to enjoy the view and have half an hour's peace and reflection.
The police arrived and, for no apparent reason, removed him from his car and made a thorough search of the vehicle, even removing the battery.
From what I was told, his reaction was not one of pleasure at assisting our boys in blue in the fight against terrorism and drugs crime, assuming that's why they did it. No, his reaction was one of indignant fury.
The end justifying the means isn't the first thought that pops into people's heads when they themselves get caught up in the means.