May 19th, 2010

Ben Chu: Shami's not shameless

I saw the debate on Newsnight between Shami Chakrabarti and Lord Carlile yet came away with a different interpretation from my colleague John Rentoul.

Chakrabarti's essential argument was that if there is insufficient evidence to charge these two individuals they should be set free. Is that such a "shameless" position? I thought it was the basis of the British criminal law, whereby a person is considered innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial.

She also argued that if the police and the intelligence services still consider these individuals to pose a potential threat, they should be closely monitored. Again, is that a "shameless" position? If so, it's a shamelessness in which the police already acquiesce when it comes to non-terror cases. Sometimes the police suspect people of being involved in criminal conspiracies, yet they lack the evidence to charge them. What do they do? They put them under surveillance and attempt to gather that evidence with a view to eventual prosecution.

According to John, surveillance for foreign terror suspects would be either prohibitively expensive, intensely intrusive or ineffective. Yet what is the alternative? Should they be imprisoned indefinitely on the say so of the police, the intelligence services and Lord Carlile? Should they be put under the quasi house arrest of control orders? Should they be deported to face possible torture from the security forces in their home countries? All those options look pretty shameless to me.