Statewatch article: RefNo# 25713
Internment under the ATCS Act: the first two years
Statewatch Bulletin; vol 14 no 1 January-February 2004
Extracts from a speech by Gareth Peirce, solicitor for a number of the men interned in Belmarsh high-security prison under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 on its implementation


In December 2001 the Home Secretary informed the Council of Europe that there was in the UK a national emergency threatening the life of the nation so extreme that the UK needed to withdraw from its treaty obligation, specifically the obligation that no individual could be detained without trial. No other country of the now 40-plus member states of the Council of Europe has felt that necessity. At the beginning, when the Home Secretary announced the legislation that he was intending, he was reminded that it was impermissible short of a national emergency. His response was that that was a "technicality". Later, clearly after received having forceful legal advice, he attempted to put flesh on the bone of that claim. The claim that was then made was that there was a specific threat of a kind only encountered otherwise in a time of war or internal armed conflict. It came from al Qaeda and organisations and individuals closely linked to and working in harmony with al Qaeda with the same objectives, the objective being to attack America and its close allies, Israel and the United Kingdom.

Entry into force

There was extensive publicity attached to the coming into force of this legislation, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (ATCS) just before Christmas two years ago. Whatever the reassurances that were given to Parliament that individuals would have legal representation and their interests would be protected, this was not the case. Ten individuals were seized from their homes the morning after the legislation was passed in 2001 and taken straight to Belmarsh Prison and Woodhill Prison near Milton Keynes. Their families had no idea what had happened to them or where they had gone. No one was informed that they were arrested. By complete accident a number of them arrived on a landing in Belmarsh Prison where a remand prisoner who had money in his property and a phone card was able to phone his solicitor and inform her that a number of people had arrived who were not being allowed to make phone calls and who needed a lawyer urgently. Belmarsh refused visits until after Christmas. There was now a day and a half before a complete shut-down before Christmas. Threatened Judicial review produced a scrappy visit in Belmarsh the next morning. The Commission was informed that an urgent bail application was to be made and listed an application for one man the following day. HMSO said that the legislation was not yet published and would not be available until after Christmas. In desperation a radio interview produced the following morning a copy of the legislation five minutes before the bail application, hot off the press. A faxed note late at night from the Home Secretary's lawyers contained the reasons why that first individual had been certificated. It was too dangerous for him to be removed to Morocco and he had visited two named individuals in Belmarsh Prison. It was clearly wholly astonishing to the innumerable unnamed members of government departments who were present at that bail application to learn that the man was not an asylum seeker. He had lived in this country for 18 years as a taxpayer but had visited Morocco each year for those 18 years to see his family. Yes indeed he had visited two named persons in Belmarsh Prison. He had done so as an interpreter and had been cleared by police and security at Belmarsh before doing so. Nevertheless the Commission said it must regard the purpose of the legislation as detention and must regard the decision of the Secretary of State to have issued a certificate as reasonable until proven to the contrary and that the only circumstance in which bail could be granted would be if an individual was terminally ill or could prove that he was not the person in question.

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