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UK lawmakers urge review of anti-terror laws

Anti-terror laws have allowed police to hold suspects for up to 28 days without charge.
Anti-terror laws have allowed police to hold suspects for up to 28 days without charge.
  • Parliamentary committee urges review of legislation passed since 2001
  • Lawmakers question whether anti-terror measures still "necessary and proportionate"
  • Legislation includes extending detention without charge for terror suspects to 28 days
  • Committee says review should be urgent priority for next parliament

London, England (CNN) -- A British parliamentary committee questioned Thursday whether current counter-terrorism measures are still justified almost nine years after the September 11 attacks.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights called for a thorough review of the need for and proportionality of all counter-terrorism legislation passed since the 2001 attacks on the United States.

"That evidence should be carried out in light of evidence of how it has worked in practice and the reasons why it is said to remain necessary and proportionate in the circumstances in which we find ourselves today," the committee said in a report.

The British government has justified much of the legislation by saying there is a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation," but the committee questioned whether that is still the case more than eight years later.

Specifically, the committee said it is concerned about the government's use of secret evidence in courts. Secret evidence is submitted by prosecutors and not shared with defendants for reasons of national security; it may be shown to "special advocates" representing defendants, but the person on trial is still not allowed to see it.

The committee said such evidence is now being used for parole board cases, asset-freezing applications, and employment tribunals in addition to terrorism cases.

It expressed concern about powers to detain terrorism suspects for as long as 28 days without charge, and recommended a review to find out whether those powers are still necessary. It also urged the government to scrap a draft bill that would extend pre-charge detention to 42 days, saying the bill -- if enacted -- "is likely to give rise to breaches of the right to liberty."

The committee also recommended that the granting of bail be allowed in terrorism cases and pushed for judicial control over the use of intercepted conversations as evidence.

"We recommend that this be treated as an urgent priority by the next Parliament," the committee said. A general election is expected in early May.

Amnesty International UK welcomed the report and said it hoped the recommendations would be put into force.

"We hope whichever government is in power after the election takes it seriously and does carry out a wholesale review of the procedures in place," said Tara Lyle, a policy adviser for Amnesty in London.

The government's argument that Britain continues to be in a state of emergency, thereby justifying the anti-terrorism measures, should be challenged, she said. But she said courts often defer to the government in such cases, making it more likely that restrictions on rights will be upheld.

"The government just doesn't seem to fully take account of its human rights obligations when putting into place new counter-terrorism measures," Lyle told CNN. "It's time for a wholesale review of all counter-terrorism legislation that's been put in place since 2001."