Joint Committee On Human Rights Second Report



76. We have had to consider the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill at great speed. We are very conscious of the circumstances which gave birth to it, and the threat that many citizens of this country still feel to their safety after the terrible events of 11 September. However, Parliament should take a long view, and resist the temptation to grant powers to governments which compromise the rights and liberties of individuals. The situations which may appear to justify the granting of such powers are temporary—the loss of freedom is often permanent.

77. The Government has made sincere efforts to safeguard rights while addressing the threat that it assesses exists to national security. Indeed, the Home Secretary has been keen to stress that he has sought the derogation from the ECHR because he wishes to override a lesser right (to a fair trial) in order to preserve a greater one (to be free from torture or capital punishment or inhuman and degrading treatment). All such decisions involve balancing freedom and security—a balancing act of which it is difficult to judge the success because Parliament is not privy to all the information to which Ministers have access.

78. We have concluded that, on the evidence available to us, the balance between freedom and security in the Bill before us has not always been struck in the right place. In particular, although we recognise the dilemma from which the Home Secretary sought to free himself by recourse to the derogation from Article 5, we are not persuaded that the circumstances of the present emergency or the exigencies of the current situation meet the tests set out in Article 15 of the ECHR. It is now for Parliament to draw its own conclusions, and for Members of both Houses to satisfy themselves that there are adequate safeguards to protect the rights of the individual citizen against abuse of these powers .

79. On the other matters of concern which we have outlined above, we will be seeking further evidence and giving them further consideration. We may report to each House again before the Bill reaches the statute book—in whatever form it gets there. Careful consideration is not, however, aided by the decision to push a Bill of this size and complexity through Parliament at such breakneck speed. Too many ill-conceived measures litter the statute book as a result of such rushed legislation in the past.

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Prepared 16 November 2001