“Think of a number and double it!” seems to be the manner in which Labour has reached the latest figure of 42 days for terrorist pre-charge detention, pulled from the hat today by Jacqui Smith, the hapless Home Secretary who shows every sign of not knowing her posterior from her elbow. Quite how she arrived at this figure is unclear.

Do not get me wrong: I am all in favour of Islamo-fascist, Irish and other assorted terrorists being caught, interviewed vigourously, tried fairly and given lengthy and condign sentences at the end of it. But I would hasten to put the emphasis on the word ‘fair’ here.

I appreciate that the concept of fair trials is one that has become unfashionable of late, especially if you are a reader of The Daily Mail or one who looks at The Sun or The Mirror, but for me the mark of a decent society is that it ensures that before people are locked away for lengthy periods, the State must be put to the trouble of producing evidence which proves to a Jury of ordinary citizens beyond a reasonable doubt, makes them sure, that someone is guilty.

Holding someone for forty-two days before trial is not, except in the circumstances of dire emergency, within my definition of the process of fair trial. One knows from experience the shenanigans that go on in the cases of ordinary criminals during the short period of pre-trial detention they undergo and that is just within a strictly limited period available to interview and investigate them. Multiply this many times for terrorists and the opportunities for misconduct multiply.

Six weeks is a very long time waiting to know your fate. Most such people will be kept in isolation from other prisoners in that time, something of itself which may lead to a fraying, not to say a breaking of the human will. Long periods of solitary confinement punctuated by long and intensive interrogations may produce results the basis of which is distinctly shaky to say the least. It

We still have no evidence which might properly justify an extension from 28 to 42 days, or 44 or 46 or 48 or 52 or 56 or whatever today’s figure is. Instead we have Lord West and others on the Labour side who (pace Lord West’s road to Downing Street conversion) can either see no basis for an extension or who are positively against it.

What has happened in the meantime that actually justifies this matter being looked at again? Nothing.

Except perhaps Gordon Brown’s fall from his perch?

That, one suspects, is what is going on here: Labour is trying to manoeuvre the Tories into strident opposition to an extension so that Brown can play the Security card. This is all about partisan party politics and nothing at all, on the evidence at least, to do with security.

And of course Labour would just love a little distraction from its present troubles, would it not?

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