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United Kingdom: Controversial Terrorism Pre-Charge Detention Powers Rarely Utilized

(Nov. 1, 2010) The Government of the United Kingdom has published its quarterly statistical bulletin on the operation of a number of powers given to police under the UK's expansive anti-terrorism legislative regime. One of the more controversial pieces of this regime is the government's ability to detain individuals for up to 28 days without charge where there is a reasonable belief that they are terrorist suspects. This long period of detention without charge is designed to allow the police to obtain, preserve, analyze, or examine evidence for use in criminal proceedings and is described by the previous Labour government as one of “the most important powers available to the police in the fight against terrorism … . The principal usefulness of the power … [is that] it allows arrests to be made at an earlier stage than if there was a requirement for suspicion of a specific offence.” (The Government Reply to the Fourth Report from the Home Affairs Committee Session 2005-6, H.C. 910, Terrorism Detention Powers, 2006-07, Cm. 6906, ¶ 22, at document/cm69/6906/6906.pdf.)

Despite this statement and others similar to it, statistics released by the Home Office indicate these powers are rarely used to the full extent. The Home Office notes:

Thirty-two per cent of those arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in 2009/10 were held in pre-charge detention for under one day and 83 per cent for under seven days. No individuals were held for longer than 14 days. Since the extension of the pre-charge detention period in 2006, only 11 suspects have been held for over 14 days and six for the full period of 28 days. (Home Office, Operation of Police Powers Under the Terrorism Act 2000 and Subsequent Legislation – Arrest, Outcomes and Stops & Searches, Great Britain, 2009/10, HOME OFFICE STATISTICAL BULLETIN (Oct. 28, 2010),

The coalition government is currently conducting a review of the anti-terrorism laws in the UK, with a stated view of reining some in “to restore the balance of civil liberties and counter-terrorism powers.” (Home Office, Rapid Review of Counter-Terrorism Powers, July 13, 2010,
; No Terror Arrests from Stop and Search, Says Government, BBC News, Oct. 28, 2010,
; Terrorism Act 2000, c. 11,
; Terrorism Act 2006, c. 11,
; see also Clare Feikert, Pre-Charge Detention for Terrorist Suspects: United Kingdom, Law Library of Congress website, Oct. 2008,