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New Council of Europe torture committee report on detention under UK terror laws

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CPT) has published a new report on the United Kingdom yesterday where it details its conclusions on the situation it had witnessed during its visit in the country in December 2007, when it examined the safeguards afforded to persons detained by the police under the Terrorism Act 2000 as well as the conditions of detention of such persons at Paddington Green High Security Police Station. Appended to the report is also the UK government’s response to the Committee’s submissions.

The Committee notes that the Terrorism Act 2000 permits the police, on their own authority, to detain persons arrested under Article 41 of the Act for a maximum period of 48 hours. Thereafter, a warrant for further detention of such a person prior to his being charged may be obtained from a judicial authority. At present, pre-charge detention of a terrorist suspect may be extended initially up to 7 days, and then by successive periods of 7 days up to a maximum of 28 days and in ‘specified circumstances’ even to 42 days, following the Counter- Terrorism Bill introduced into Parliament on 24 January 2008. The detention under this law in police custody should be limited to 14 days in order to avoid the violation of the person’s rights, particularly the right to be physically brought in front of the judge deciding on the extension of their detention period and that the necessary steps are taken with regards to access to a lawyer.

Some of the most interesting Committee’s conclusions derived from its visits to the abovementioned detention facilities include its submission that a 14 day limit should be imposed on the holding of a person in conditions such as the one’s at the Paddington Police station – i.e. “the cells provided a very austere environment and there was minimal access to natural light… outside exercise was still not systematically offered every day and, when it did take place, it was limited to under 20 minutes and took place under unsatisfactory conditions (a cordoned off section of the vehicle park)…”

The UK government responded by holding that “[it] does not believe that the current arrangements need to be changed in [respect of the 14 day detention limit for police custody]” as it is working to improve detention facilities to comply with its responsibilities. Further, it reaffirmed its position with regards to the legitimacy of video-linked hearing noting that “it is necessary for a detained person to always be brought within the direct physical presence of a judge… it is possible for judges to consider whether to authorise continued detention through hearings conducted by video link…” Since “the use of video link is cost-effective and expeditious and the Government is not persuaded of the need for a detained person’s automatic physical appearance before a judge.” The government considers a presumption in favour of a video-linked hearing, which allows for the detainee “to make representations for a physical appearance” as sufficient to allow for the enjoyment of his procedural rights (a controversial matter covered in a previous post).

The CPT has also recently published its 18th General Report surveying its activities worldwide in promoting its mandate, which consists of the examination of the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty and the submission of recommendation to States for the purpose of advancing improvements in detention conditions.

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