Proposal to cut time suspects can he held without charge from 28 to 14 days, with option 14 more on stringent bail
A review of counter-terrorism legislation is expected to tell ministers that control orders for suspects should remain, but the time police can hold suspects without charge should be cut to 14 days from 28, the Guardian has learned.
The review recommendations can be overturned by ministers but security services and police have so far won their argument that there is no alternative to control orders.
Nine British citizens or residents are currently subject to the orders which severely restrict the freedoms of those believed to be involved in planning violence, but against whom no case can be brought which meets the criminal standard of proof.
But police have for now lost their battle to be able to hold terrorism suspects without charge for 28 days. The proposed limit will be 14 days, but with an option of a further 14 days of bail under more stringent terms than for other criminal offences.
The last Labour government was beaten back on attempts to increase the limit first to 90 days and then to 42 days.
The review of the counter-terrorism and security powers is examining six key areas of counter terrorism powers.
The recommendations are scheduled to be released later this year and will be a key test of the coalition’s credentials on civil liberties. A decision to substantially keep control orders would present problems for the Liberal Democrats who promised in their election manifesto to scrap them.
In their manifesto the Liberal Democrats said: “We believe that the best way to combat terrorism is to prosecute terrorists, not give away hard-won British freedoms.” It vowed to “scrap control orders, which can use secret evidence to place people under house arrest”.
The Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne, who is now the climate change secretary, has described control orders as Kafkaesque.
The decision on control orders comes against a background of MI5 and police counter terrorism commands facing budgets cuts. Furthermore Britain is facing a double terrorism threat, a severe one from al-Qaida inspired militants and a substantial one from dissident Irish Republicans.
Critics brand control orders as “house arrest”, an affront to civil liberties, and of questionable effectiveness as seven people under them have escaped.
The head of MI5, Jonathan Evans used a speech in September to call for control orders to be kept. “Terrorist threats can still exist which the criminal justice system cannot reach. The government cannot absolve itself of the responsibility to protect its citizens just because the criminal law cannot, in the particular circumstances, serve the purpose.”
One counter terrorism source said: “The review was conceived at a more benign time, but now there is the threat of a Mumbai-style attack, and the increased threat from Irish terrorism. Do ministers want to take that risk? The power is used sparingly. It is about a very small number of dangerous people.”
The review process is being led by the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism. It is headed by Charles Farr, a former senior intelligence officer who has sought the views of cabinet ministers, including the home and justice secretaries, the security minister as well as other MPs and the campaigning group Liberty.
Another issue referred to the review was the prospect of deporting foreign-born terrorism suspects which ran into problems because many of their homelands had suspect human rights records.
One measure examined was deportation with “monitored” assurances, with a doctor appointed by the UK examining those expelled from Britain, for signs of ill treatment One danger for such a plan is that the courts may still strike it down for breaching the human rights of suspects.