Why I’m not so worried about David Miranda’s detention

When David Miranda was arrested under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act at Heathrow Airport on Sunday morning, he had the best lawyers the Guardian could afford at least  arguing with the authorities if not with him for all of that time, the newspaper itself and the Brazilian Government, concerned at the treatment of one of its own citizens, to stick up for him. Even then, the authorities held on to him to within minutes of the maximum nine hours. Holding the partner of the journalist who has been working on a story alleging that Governments have been acting beyond their powers doesn’t look good, even if, as Scotland Yard has done, you assert that you are acting within the law. I find it hard to believe that anyone could credibly think that Miranda, working for his partner and the Guardian at the time, could fit this description:

is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

But Miranda is safely home now, a bit shaken up for sure, and a hell of a fuss is being kicked up, rightly, about his detention. I’m not so worried about him specifically, although like any liberal, I have concerns about the legitimacy of Sunday’s events.

For me, it’s how widely this power of detention is used. There are around 66,000 inhabitants of the town where I live.  That’s a lot of people. The Schedule 7 power, according to the BBC, was used on 61,545 people last year. In itself that’s way down on when Labour were in power, but it’s still a moderate sized town’s worth. Very few are detained right up to or beyond the limit. My worries are for those who don’t have the connections to advocate on their behalf, to ensure that the few rights that they have under this provision are honoured.

If you are detained by authorities in any other scenario, you have at least the right to silence. This is not so in the case of Schedule 7. You could be banged up for up to 3 months or fined for refusing to answer questions. In Miranda’s case, he says in an interview with the Guardian that he was asked about all sorts of things about his life and work which had no connection to terrorism. How many others are treated in the same way?

It is an extremely serious matter that the authorities have now been able to act in this way and to help themselves to the contents of Miranda’s electronic equipment and storage devices and that they’ll be able to keep hold of that after the devices have been returned to him. The wider question is why on earth the Coalition Government continues to use this wide-ranging power and others contained within Labour’s authoritarian legislation. They have repealed the notorious Section 44 stop and searches and replaced them with a more proportionate power that was even welcomed by Liberty and are currently reducing the detention time under Schedule 7, but this is tinkering at the edges. The presence of immigration officers at tube station questioning random people (and not many of them white) and the extension of the use of closed material procedures to civil cases signify a creeping authoritarianism that should worry any liberal. It is very dangerous for our party to be seen to be associated with this kind of stuff. I wrote on this subject earlier this month when the immigration officers’ actions came to light. If we think that any officials of the state are using their authority in the wrong way, then we should speak up and get it stopped. It pains me that Labour are being so vocal in complaining about Miranda’s detention when they introduced the legislation in the first place. It’s time we asserted, and are seen to be asserting,  our USP as champions of civil liberties.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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42 Comments

  • Unbelievable that your ‘take home message’ on this issue is an attack on Labour. Politicians make me despair.

  • Caron,
    I am surprised you’re not worried. There is something seriously wrong if you think it is either right or appropriate that anti-terror laws are used to stop legitimate journalists, and confiscate their equipment.

    This legislation was designed to be used against real terrorists – who want to kill innocent people. The fact that it has been used in this way should worry all of us.

  • Thank you for this article, I had hoped to hear more from LIb Dems. For many the commitment to Civil Liberties is key for supporting the party. I am disappointed that senior Lib Dems have not been raising the stakes on this.

    Of course, in theory the jury is still out as yet, but also in theory as you eloquently set out, this legislation is justified by the need to combat terrorism. Scotland Yard need to be told in no uncertain terms that the onus is upon them to justify Miranda’s detention in terms of terrorism. and that if they cannot do that, they have breached the law and failed in their duty to uphold the law.

    Do the innocent have nothing but the state to fear?

  • He wasn’t arrested, he was detained. That’s part of the problem. Arrest has specific legal features which can be circumvented if you detain someone rather than arresting them. Read Jack of Kent’s twitter timeline.

    I am less relaxed about his particular case than you are, even though he can be placed in the public eye, the border force seem not to care about stuff like that any more. Mostly, I suspect, because the only ones who do care are a bunch of wishy washy liberals like us. I feel even worse about those who don’t have the opportunity to get themselves in the public eye.

  • You dont explain “Why I’m not so worried about David Miranda’s arrest” at all, and the title gives completely the wrong impression.

    The fact that any UK citizen can be detained for 9 hours and face prison if they dont answer questions on any subject is an outrage. The lack of any outrage from Lib Dem MPs is making me sick.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Aug '13 - 10:55am

    Ok, point taken on difference between arrest and detention – have amended the headline.

    I didn’t say I wasn’t woried – I said I wasn’t so worried as I am about the fact that this legislation exists in the first place and that there are a moderately sized town’s worth of people being held under it annually who don’t have the Guardian to kick up a fuss for them.

    I am also very worried about what’s happening generally in civil liberties and that we are being associated with such illiberal and authoritarian measures such as this and the use of the immigration spot checks at tube stations and the like.

    But as we speak, Brian Paddick is about to come on to BBC News channel…wonder what he’ll have to say.

  • The lack of a reasonable suspicion test is the fundamental problem here. This means that the misuse of powers under Labour’s s7 can never be challenged.

  • Richard Wingfield 20th Aug '13 - 11:18am

    As Caron has written, the coalition government are making some changes to Schedule 7 including limiting the amount of time a person can be detained to 1 hour, after which point any further examination would have to take place following arrest which would mean additional safeguards, including access to a lawyer. This is a huge improvemebt. Further, a supervising officer will now be required to review continually the case for detention, and other changes are being made which will mitigate some of the excesses of Schedule 7.

    Aside from the maximum period of detention, the big concern I have is the lack of any criteria that have to be met before a person can be detained under Schedule 7. At present, Schedule 7 requires no justification for the decision taken to detain a person. Although the guidance suggests that detention should only be undertaken when appropriate and proportionate, this should be laid down in statute. I would like to see a requirement that there be a reasonable suspicion (or, better, a reasonable belief) that the person is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism (the purpose for which the person may be questioned). This has also been suggested by David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation in his 2010 report on this, and I think it is something that all Liberal Democrats could support.

  • Good comments from Richard Wingfield and it would be better to have similar reflections echoed from the top of the Party. There is the possibility that good could come of this affair, with Schedule 7 battened down into a tight and more accountable legal framework.

    Senior Lib Dems do not have to get into the possibly tricky specifics of this case to voice clear misgivings about the general process.

  • I agree with MBoy. Lib Dem MPs should be speaking out against this kind of thing. I thought preserving freedom was a liberal value. What is the point of voting if all the three main parties act like the Tory party?

    Freedom is a very fragile thing and this case illustrates the attack on one of the pillars keeping us free, the press.

  • Simon Bamonte 20th Aug '13 - 12:56pm

    @Simon Shaw: That new bill you seem so proud of is another piece of authoritarian legislation that Labour, who you are so keen to always attack, would’ve been proud of. Instead of criminalising “harassment, alarm and distress” as the old bill does through ASBOs, it has a wider scope and contains measures where the police and even private security companies like G4S will be able to disperse groups of 2 if they are simply being a “nuisance and annoyance”. This will inevitably be used to stifle legal, peaceful protest. Fortunately, other, less partisan LibDems have spoken out about this bill on this very site: https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-antisocial-behaviour-bill-set-to-restrict-public-protest-35316.html

    But, hey, let’s ignore the fact that it is a government in which LibDems sit where we now see partners of journalists detained and all their equipment confiscated and just get in another partisan dig at Labour. Let me guess, it’s ok when we do it? You had nothing to say about this happening under your watch, just more whatabouttery concerning Labour.

    You really are a typical politician.

  • @Simon Shaw
    Thanks for the link but the changes do not seem to be much of an improvement. There is still no requirement that there be an actual involvement of terrorism. So Mr Miranda still would have been stopped for committing the crime of “journalism”

  • David Allen 20th Aug '13 - 1:17pm

    It’s still a totally misleading title for the article that follows it.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Aug '13 - 1:41pm

    Made you look, though, David, didn’t it?:-)

  • jenny barnes 20th Aug '13 - 3:48pm

    @ simon.
    1) no
    As the Met claim their detention of Mr. Miranda and theft of his electronic gear is legal, the law is not something a liberal should support.
    2) no, it should be repealed.

    Comment about Labour: ” A big boy did it and ran away”.

  • Simon Bamonte 20th Aug '13 - 3:51pm

    @Simon Shaw:
    “1. Do you support the provisions of Labour’s Terrorism Act 2000 Schedule 7?”

    No. It is an illiberal, authoritarian piece of legislation that should never have seen the light of day.

    “2. Do you support the amendments proposed to Schedule 7 by the Coalition Government’s Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Police Bill?”

    I support those specific proposed amendments, yes. However, I do not support the bill as a whole. It is, like Labour’s legislation, a mostly illiberal bill which will criminalise people for “being annoying”, which has a very wide scope indeed, is open to misinterpretation and gives more power to unaccountable private security companies. Just like Labour’s legislation has been misused, this bill as it stands can just as easily be misused to further stifle legal and peaceful protest.

    I don’t, by the way, defend Labour all the time. I haven’t voted Labour or supported Labour since 1983. But that’s by the by. The point is that LibDems are now part of the government and our “leaders'” silence on this issue (as well as the silence of the Tory side of the government) speaks volumes. Labour has been out of government since 2010. Maybe it’s time LibDems take responsibility for what happens now that THEY are in government, instead of blaming Labour for everything, especially when they now have the power to speak out and change legislation such as this.

  • Simon Bamonte 20th Aug '13 - 4:15pm

    @Simon Shaw:
    “Which is exactly what the Coalition Government is doing. So why aren’t you congratulating it?”

    Because, as I pointed out above, the bill contains further authoritarian and illiberal measures giving more power to private security companies and measures which could very well be used to stifle legal protest. Many of us trust companies like G4S even less than we trust the police. Why do you support measures which criminalise the act of being annoying or a nuisance, Simon? Why do you think the LibDem/Tory government should be congratulated for attempting to give even more powers to the police and unaccountable private security companies?

  • Simon Shaw

    I think Simon B summarised things quite well.

    The provisions in Schedule 7 of the 2000 bill were a disgrace then and are a disgrace tnow – typical of Labour knee-jerk reaction (not only them – the Tories are as bad) to ‘terrorism’.

    The improvements proposed are good, not perfect, and I am glad to see them taking place.

    The rest of the bill is not so great though – to turn your question back – do you support the bill in its entirety?

    Second point, is that this detention was under the current Government – that is not Labour’s responsibility. There seems to have been a certain amout of collusion in deciding this detention so I would ask who did the colluding – the Met, MI5 or was the Government involved. If the latter, who, and why did they take advantage of a clause they are trying to oppose?

    The fact that Labour is illiberal is a point to discuss at election time, the fact that a man was detained under this legislation in 2013 is for the Government of the day to answer (or at the very least make a comment denouncing or supporting the it)

  • Having been stopped under this law before I can tell you that the best thing to do is to tell them you are answering no questions and demand to be arrested. Their interviews under this act are not recorded and they absolutely do not want to arrest you. Doing this got me out in less than 30 minutes, though I recognise this probably wouldn’t work in this case.

  • David Miranda may indeed be safely home but press freedom is far from safe. This incident plus yesterday’s account by Alan Rusbridger of how officials claiming to represent the prime minister threatened the Guardian and then sent round goons to destroy computer hardware means we are veering towards becoming a totalitarian state.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/19/david-miranda-schedule7-danger-reporters

    Schedule 7 gives police, as Rusbridger notes, “enormous discretion to stop, search and question people who have no connection with “terror”, as ordinarily understood. That should have no place on the statute book if Lib Dems have any influence at all, not even in the somewhat watered down version that appears to be what is now proposed.

    Let’s be clear: “terror” in this context means embarrassing the government and that is precisely what a free press should be doing when that government has been behaving as badly as this one has. If the government gets away with this they will have moved the goalposts of freedom in a bad way.

    The silence so far from Clegg is deafening. It certainly used to be the case that championing civil liberties was a Lib Dem USP but can anyone cite current evidence that it remains so?

  • Stuart Mitchell 20th Aug '13 - 6:58pm

    @Caron @Simon Shaw @Simon Bamonte @bcrombie and others

    If Labour’s original legislation was so egregiously “authoritarian”, how come not a single Lib Dem MP voted against it?

    http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2000-03-15&number=114

    Labour are not the only party to practise hypocrisy on these issues. The Lib Dems meekly let this legislation pass thirteen years ago but now pretend they’ve been outraged by it all along.

  • Stuart Mitchell 20th Aug '13 - 7:16pm

    @GF
    “yesterday’s account by Alan Rusbridger of how officials claiming to represent the prime minister”

    What Rusbridger actually said was that he was “contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister”. Lord knows what that’s supposed to mean.

    Several comments here expressing bewilderment that a “partner” of a journalist should be treated this way. Yet Rusbridger is clear about the fact that Greenwald is “regularly helped by David Miranda”. So it appears that Miranda is a full participant in whatever Greenwald has been up to, Whether this justifies his detention, I have no idea (and nor does anybody else), but let’s nail the idea that he was picked on simply for sleeping with the wrong guy.

  • abolish schedule 7 – and the LibDems need t o exit this ghastly right wing reactionary coalition and stop working with right wing illiberal authoritarians like May and the illiberal tory party. The Libs need to free themselves from a party that tramples on civil liberties and human rights – separate from a government led by tories who wish to cower journos and individuals from daring to criticize their darker policies

    Next where are the Libdem MPs standing up with the Greens against fracking which will destroy our environment and ecology?

    Where are the LD MPs to condemn the military coup against a democratically elected government; murdering hundreds of their own citizens?

  • @ Stuart Mitchell

    Chris Mason of the BBC is reporting that “very the senior government official” who contacted Rusbridger was in fact Sir Jeremy Heywood and that the PM, the Deputy PM and the foreign secretary were in the loop from the outset (my words not his). More in Wednesday’s Guardian and Independent apparently.

    Perhaps this explains Clegg’s reticence on the subject.

  • Apart from the estimable Julian Huppert and to a lesser extent, my former MP Andrew George, as time goes on I struggle to see any reason to support the Lib Dems with my vote. This website’s attitude reminds me of when Labour MPs and activists thought they could counteract any criticism of their support for the Iraq invasion by bragging they had outlawed fox hunting.

  • Yes, the Mail has the same story, saying Cameron, Clegg and Hague sanctioned the smashing of hard drives at the Guardian’s offices.

    Can someone remind me – was that among Lord Leveson’s recommendations for press regulation?

  • Richard Wingfield 21st Aug '13 - 1:18am

    The Terrorism Act 2000 passed with bipartisan support from both Labour and the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats supported the principle of the Act (i.e. a single permanent piece of counter-terrorism legislation) but had concerns with much of the substance, which is why the party abstained at third reading.

    It should be remembered – and it’s a real shame that so many people forget this – that Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 replaced Schedule 5 to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989, passed by a Conservative government, which allowed for detention for up to twenty-four hours! In that respect, Schedule 7 to the 2000 Act (which has a maximum of nine hours) was a significant improvement. The Liberal Democrats did not “meekly” allow this legislation to pass. It had bipartisan support from the two big parties so there was nothing we could do. We pressed for amendments at Committee and Report Stage which were rejected by the two big parties. What exactly did you want us to do back in 1999/2000? As part of the Coalition government we are now introducing further safeguards including reducing the maximum period of detention to one hour. I hope, with some pressure, that we can further introduce a threshold of “reasonable suspicion” before detention can be authorised. These would make a real difference to Schedule 7, the principle of which, I support.

  • Andrew Suffield 21st Aug '13 - 1:41am

    The presence of immigration officers at tube station questioning random people

    I’ve heard the tales of this but I have not been able to substantiate them. This is important because, so far as I can tell, for immigration officers to be questioning random people at a tube station would be illegal, a violation of the Home Office’s own rules, a breach of assurances that the Home Office has given to parliament, and a disciplinary offence for any officers responsible. They are specifically prohibited from questioning random people – they may only operate in pursuit of individuals named in advance.

    If anybody spots this happening again – get names and numbers!

    The point is that LibDems are now part of the government and our “leaders’” silence on this issue (as well as the silence of the Tory side of the government) speaks volumes.

    Yes, it does. There is one reason – and one reason alone – which can cause both sets of ministers to say nothing. That reason is the agreement made at the start of this government to uphold cabinet collective responsibility, which states that a minister can only do one of these three things in a public statement:

    1. State the position of the government
    2. Say nothing
    3. Resign

    Since nobody is doing 1 or 3, it’s very easy for us to see why: the two groups of leaders have been unable to reach any agreement on this subject, and hence cannot say anything. Given that there are only really two positions possible, I’ll leave it to the reader to guess which party came down hard on which side.

  • Andrew Colman 21st Aug '13 - 8:26am

    The terrorism act is there to stop terrorists, not to protect politicians from embarrassment. If the latter is the case , then the terrorists have won as our democracy has been compromised.

    An answer would to have a senior opposition MP in the loop when political approval is given to the use of the terrorism act. The opposition representative would not have a veto, but would be able to publicly express disapproval if he/she thinks the terrorism act is being used inappropriately. After all government and opposition are united against terrorism, if not we are in very serious problems indeed.

  • “An answer would to have a senior opposition MP in the loop when political approval is given to the use of the terrorism act.”

    It’s a terrible idea having politicians involved in decisions of this sort. The answer is to have adequate judicial oversight, and keep politicians as far from the process as possible.

  • Graham Evans 21st Aug '13 - 9:30am

    Andrew says “it’s very easy for us to see why: the two groups of leaders have been unable to reach any agreement on this subject, and hence cannot say anything”, but Theresa May has now vigorously defended the police action so surely Lib Dem ministers and MPs are now free to express their opposition. Unfortunately the evidence regarding the destruction of the Guardian server files suggests that Nick Clegg may, let us hope naively, have actually supported the abuse of the terrorist laws.

  • “Since nobody is doing 1 or 3, it’s very easy for us to see why: the two groups of leaders have been unable to reach any agreement on this subject, and hence cannot say anything.”

    This really is ‘nonsense on stilts’. If there is no collectively agreed policy, then collective responsibility doesn’t come into it and everyone can say what they like.

  • “plus ca change, etc”

    🙁

  • David White 21st Aug '13 - 4:34pm

    No Caron, you’re wrong about everything you’ve said; sorry – and you should be sorry too; even ashamed.

    ‘…If not with him for all of that time’? The solicitor was unable to gain access to the prisoner until the final hour of Mr Miranda’s incarceration. Even then, the rights of both of them to make recordings and make full notes were denied. Yes, ‘rights’. It must be an absolute right for any political prisoner to make uncensored notes, recordings and to take photos.

    No truly open, honest and even-handed police and judicial system would object to such openness.

  • Dave Eastham 22nd Aug '13 - 10:45am

    @ Andrew Suffield 21st Aug ’13 – 1:41am

    ” The presence of immigration officers at tube station questioning random people

    I’ve heard the tales of this but I have not been able to substantiate them. This is important because, so far as I can tell, for immigration officers to be questioning random people at a tube station would be illegal, a violation of the Home Office’s own rules, a breach of assurances that the Home Office has given to parliament, and a disciplinary offence for any officers responsible. They are specifically prohibited from questioning random people – they may only operate in pursuit of individuals named in advance.

    If anybody spots this happening again – get names and numbers!”

    Andrew, try

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/08/02/southall-black-sisters_n_3694326.html?oo=0
    and

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/08/04/southall-black-sisters_n_3703139.html

    or perhaps

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23552088?oo=0

    Dave Eastham

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