“The stuff of nightmares…”
In one of those wonderful coincidences, the day after the Home Secretary fell on his sword, Britain’s Law Lords — the UK’s supreme court — delivered a stinging rejection of his anti-terrorism legislation, specifically section 21 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001 used to justify detention without trial of 16 alleged terrorists. It’s an unprecedentedly tough judgment, with some amazing passages. Here, for example, is Lord Hoffman:
“This is a nation which has been tested in adversity, which has survived physical destruction and catastrophic loss of life. I do not underestimate the ability of fanatical groups of terrorists to kill and destroy, but they do not threaten the life of the nation. Whether we would survive Hitler hung in the balance, but there is no doubt that we shall survive Al-Qaeda. The Spanish people have not said that what happened in Madrid, hideous crime as it was, threatened the life of their nation. Their legendary pride would not allow it. Terrorist violence, serious as it is, does not threaten our institutions of government or our existence as a civil community… The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory.”
And here’s Lord Scott:
“Indefinite imprisonment in consequence of a denunciation on grounds that are not disclosed and made by a person whose identity cannot be disclosed is the stuff of nightmares, associated whether accurately or inaccurately with France before and during the Revolution, with Soviet Russia in the Stalinist era and now associated, as a result of section 23 of the 2001 Act, with the United Kingdom.”
The Lords’ judgment is that the 2001 Act conflicts with the 1998 Human Rights Act. (In the UK, even the highest court in the land cannot strike out legislation as unconstitutional.) Which means that the new Home Secretary has to decide what to do next.