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Terrorism changes are 'serious challenge to our political liberty', says leading human rights lawyer

Current Legal Problems Public Lecture, University College London
Thursday 3 March, 6-7pm

The Government's new proposals for further changes in the law on terrorism are 'unnecessary, counter-productive and a serious challenge to our political liberty,' believes Professor Conor Gearty|, at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Professor Gearty will give a free public lecture 'Human rights in an age of counter-terrorism: injurious, irrelevant or indispensable?' as part of the UCL Current Legal Problems lecture series on Thursday 3 March at 6pm. He is the Rausing Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at LSE.

He said: 'There are three key points. Firstly, the legislation provides for a new scheme of control orders applicable to all suspected terrorists irrespective of whether they are British or foreign nationals. This marks a sharp expansion of police power vis-à-vis the general public.

'Secondly, the definition of 'terrorism' in the 2000 Act is far wider than is popularly assumed, covering politically, religiously or ideologically motivated serious violence to the person and serious damage to property but also similarly motivated conduct creating either 'a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public' or which is 'designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system' and that this means these control orders will be far wider than is generally understood.

'Finally, governments have always used fear to drive through unpopular and unwarranted attacks on liberty, and this is particularly the case with terrorism law. The same was tried successfully in 1939, 1974, 1996, 1998 and 2001 and it is being tried again today. Once the Irish were the alibis, now it is Al-Qaeda, an organisation that it is not even clear exists in the form popularly ascribed to it.

'We need to ponder the kind of society we are helping to create here: a new class of restricted persons, perhaps running into hundreds - thousands, who knows? And there is the frightening prospect of an arrest and detention in what the Home Secretary calls 'accommodation owned and managed by the Government 'which it seems would need to be described by other than the traditional word for such a place, a prison. This looks very like internment by the back door.'

'It is extraordinarily disappointing that the new Home Secretary has decided to side with the forces of extra-legality. This is a time when we should be rebuilding our criminal justice system, not subverting it.'

The lecture is free, open to the public with no booking required.


To reserve a press seat, contact Jessica Hughes, UCL: jessica.hughes@ucl.ac.uk|  or on 020 7679 1407
Judith Higgin, LSE Press Office on 020 7955 7582, j.a.higgin@lse.ac.uk| 

24 February 2005