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Terror police, arrest this man

In case anyone’s wondering why Damian Green was arrested by ‘anti-terror’ police – it’s because all investigations involving potential breaches of the Official Secrets Act are dealt with by Special Branch, which was renamed to Counter Terrorism Command when it was merged with the Met’s Anti-Terrorism Branch in 2006.

As with the freezing of Landsbanki’s UK assets, it has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism at all – neither in terms of the crimes that Mr Green is accused of committing, nor in terms of the laws under which he was arrested.

Rather, the media have picked up that one of the other functions of the legislation (for Landsbanki)/police force (for Mr Green) in question is terrorism, and jumped to entirely ridiculous ‘MP Arrested Under Terror Laws / Brown Brands Iceland Nation Of Terrorists’ conclusions.

Categories: Bit of politics
  1. November 29, 2008 at 1:32 am | #1

    Tut tut John. Where have you been?

    1. This country is only a hair's breadth away from being a police state

    2. ZaNuLieBore is rounding up it's enemies. Henry Porter will be next, mark my words!!!!?!?!?!?!?!

    3. If it were a democracy, a politically motivated demand for a police investigation into corruption at Number 10 would be quite in order, but we don't. Er…

    4. Has anyone seen my tinfoil hat?

  2. November 29, 2008 at 6:54 am | #2

    OK, but perhaps given that we wi;;a;ways have the "terror police" headlines whenever they are used perhaps we need to split the functions again.

  3. November 30, 2008 at 10:23 am | #3

    Well yes. But as the Simpleton suggests it's more a case of "police department given stupid, inaccurate name; media responds predictably" than anything else.

  4. ajay
    December 1, 2008 at 10:17 pm | #4

    "Special Branch" was an ideal name – bureaucratic, nondescript and slightly unnerving. Same with the armed police – while other nations gave them macho teeth-clenching names like SWAT and ACTION RAPIDE, the Met called them SO19, which sounds like a postcode or some sort of obscure paperwork. If they'd ditched the "24" sounding "Counter Terrorism Command" and called them "Special Circumstances Office" or "Bureau of Unusual Expediency" or something, no problem.

  5. December 2, 2008 at 10:21 pm | #5

    As with the freezing of Landsbanki’s UK assets, it has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism at all – neither in terms of the crimes that Mr Green is accused of committing, nor in terms of the laws under which he was arrested.

    Quite right, but that is not what Parliament was told at the time the law was being rushed on to the statute book.

    Blunkett, October 2001

    Blunkett, November 2001

  6. December 2, 2008 at 10:23 pm | #6

    Much as I hate to stick up for Blunkett, the November speech makes clear that the powers /aren't/ just for anti-terrorist purposes.

  7. December 3, 2008 at 3:10 am | #7

    Did anyone ever say that the arrest of Damian Green had anything at all to do with the Official Secrets Act? I may have missed it but I find it difficult to see how anyone could ever have made such a charge stick.

    As for the Landsbanki matter, the purposes of the legislation were quite clear: it was an act to amend the Terrorism Act 2000; to make further provision about terrorism and security; to provide for the freezing of assets; to make provision about immigration and asylum; to amend or extend the criminal law and powers for preventing crime and enforcing that law; to make provision about the control of pathogens and toxins; to provide for the retention of communications data; to provide for implementation of Title VI of the Treaty on European Union; and for connected purposes. What was said about it at the time and is recorded in Hansard is not ultimately that material: as was pointed out in a seminar I was at the other night, Pepper v Hart-ing is intended to be a last resort when embarking on statutory construction and modern drafting style militates against reference to Hansard.

    It may be that the use of the section 4 power was proper, it may yet come to court and there's certainly room for argument about the proper construction of the conditions, or that the use was well outside the purpose for which the power was given. There isn't, for instance, a single cross reference to FSMA in the Act. But it's frankly ridiculous to imply that the 129 sections and 8 schedules of the Act are not primarily about terrorism (and to a lesser extent about other large scale organised crime), or that the act clearly envisaged the use of any of the powers it granted to deal with situations outside the terrorist or general criminal contexts: leaving aside the part that deals with freezing orders (Part II, sections 4-8) only Part V (sections 37-42, the religious and racial hatred stuff) is not concerned with terrorism and organised crime.

  8. December 3, 2008 at 4:42 am | #8

    Much as I hate to stick up for Blunkett, the November speech makes clear that the powers /aren’t/ just for anti-terrorist purposes.

    As usual, John, you are correct – Blunkett made it clear that they are also for serious organised crime…

    Liadnan, as I understand Pepper v Hart, the courts will only look at Hansard for help with interpretation when the legislation itself is ambiguous. Part II of the ATCSA isn't ambiguous – John is right that it doesn't mention terrorism, or confine itself to terrorism, and you are right that ultimately Hansard is immaterial here.

    However, I think it is unreasonable to maintain, as John does, that it has "absolutely nothing to do with terrorism", in the wider sense of its history. The Government never said they wanted to use it for things other than serious organised crime and terrorism – they maintained all along that was what these powers were intended to combat. The Government claimed they didn't want to restrict the powers because then they would be restricted in terms of what they could freeze:

    If we included the word terrorism", we would, in effect, restrict quick and urgent action that was necessary to prevent certain things that cannot be shown at an early stage of an investigation to be terrorism. (Lord McIntosh of Haringey)

    They said they did not want to wait for the Proceeds of Crime Bill to make its way on to the statute book because we were in an emergency situation. They needed those powers asap to deal with terrorism (and serious organised crime tangled with terrorism).

    (And of course much of the little time allowed for debate was used on the proposals to detain foreigners without trial.)

  9. December 3, 2008 at 5:04 am | #9

    I thought the first part of that was rather what I said. But it's a canon of construction of Acts of Parliament that they are to be interpreted as a whole: part II doesn't get to be interpreted outside the context of the whole act. (This isn't an absolute rule, there are statutes where different parts are only tangentially connected with one another by general subject area.)

  10. December 3, 2008 at 9:45 pm | #10

    Liadnan, I did not know that. Thank you.

  11. December 3, 2008 at 9:50 pm | #11

    There are a host of other canons of construction though, so it would not be right to rely on that one to the exclusion of others.

  12. December 4, 2008 at 8:34 pm | #12

    Hey, in what way wasn't Landsbanki's bankruptcy serious and organised crime? "Was ist der Einbruch in eine Bank gegen die Gründung einer Bank?", as Bertholt Brecht so wisely put it.

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