Categorized | Civil Liberties

The Meaning of 42 – Part 2

The Meaning of 42 – Part 2

An earlier blog (10.06.08) contrasted ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, where 42 is the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything, with the Government, for whom 42 is more a problem than an answer. 42 achieved the status of a threat to the leadership of the Government through the wheeling, dealing and almost daily concessions to get the provisions of the Counter-Terrorism Bill through the Commons, with the actual number itself seeming to be sacrosanct.

This week the headache became a full blown migraine for the Government when plans to give police up to 42 days to question terrorism suspects were crushed by the House of Lords. Peers voted against the measure by 309 votes to 118. This came after opposition to the proposals from all sides, with 24 Labour rebels including two former Lord Chancellors, Lord Irvine and Lord Falconer, as well as Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, Lord Justice Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice, and Lord Condon, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

In an emergency statement to MPs, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith conceded defeat and said that the Counter-Terrorism Bill would continue its journey through Parliament without the 42 day measure. According to the ‘Guardian’, Government sources said the Prime Minister’s hand was forced because whips in the Commons told Downing Street that they would struggle to muster a majority in favour of the proposal. The 42 day plan was only passed by MPs in June by nine votes after the Prime Minister won the support of the nine Democratic Unionist MPs. If ministers had insisted on keeping the 42 day plan there would have been the need for a series of votes in the Commons to overturn the Lords’ rejection and eventually the use of the Parliament Act to force the bill through next year.

The capitulation was defiantly unrepentent. In her Commons statement, the Home Secretary was positively reproachful. She said “The other place has tonight voted to remove from the Counter-Terrorism Bill the protections that the government believes should be in place. Not to amend; not to strengthen; simply to remove. Mr Speaker, my priority remains the protection of the British people. I do not believe, as some hon. members clearly do, that it is enough to simply cross our fingers and hope for the best …that is not good enough. Because when it comes to national security, there are certain risks I’m not prepared to take.”

In what some see as a face saving gesture, the Home Secretary announced that she had “prepared a new bill to enable the police and prosecutors to do their work – should the worst happen, should a terrorist plot overtake us and threaten our current investigatory capabilities… The Counter Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill now stands ready to be introduced if and when the need arises. This would enable the Director of Public Prosecutions to apply to the courts to detain and question a terrorist suspect for up to a maximum of 42 days. Individuals could only be detained where this is authorised by a judge.” Once again the totemic 42 days.

The climb down has pleased a wide diversity of groups, and it is reported that David Davies, who resigned his seat and fought a by-election over this issue, shared a celebratory bottle of champagne in the Commons with Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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