Perhaps the most worrying element of the government’s failed attempt to imprison terrorist suspects for ninety days was the constant reliance on the claim that the police had asked for the new power, and been offered it with ‘no police working group, no systematic assessment of previous experiences and no discussion of options’. Once the police are able to simply ask for some new power and get it without presenting much of a case, we really will have a police state.
Draconian powers make life easier for police and they have a tendency to use the biggest guns in the armoury when a more measured response is often more appropriate. So we have 82 year old hecklers arrested under anti-terror legislation, rather than for some public order offence. A more creative and effective approach would be to look at what the police can do if someone’s obstructing a serious investigation or refusing to co-operate with their attempts to gather evidence. Perverting the course of justice already carries a maximum sentence of life and an unlimited fine.
In any case, ninety days is a long time to lock anyone up. It’s long enough put them out of work, ruin a career and besmirch their character forever. There’s a simple principle at stake. If the police think someone’s guilty they should charge them.