The Joint Committee on Human Rights has published a report raising “serious concerns” with the new Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill that is currently under review.
As the press release puts it, the Committee “is concerned that some of the new powers are too vaguely defined and do not have sufficient safeguards to protect human rights.”
The report argues that, in the current version of the Bill, the criminalisation of ‘expressions of support’ for terrorist (‘proscribed’) organisations goes too far. The same goes for attempts to criminalise viewing and sharing online content “of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism” (think ISIS videos). Both of these proposals run real risks in terms of profiling and arbitrary definitions of what counts as “proscribed” material or organisations.
The report also contests the Bill’s proposal to scrap oversight of biometrics data (e.g. DNA and fingerprint) used for counter-terrorism purposes.
The analysis of new proposals for border control make for chilling reading. To quote extensively from the report’s conclusions:
“The Bill provides for severe interferences with … rights yet the powers it gives [to border control agents] are dangerously broad. The definition of “hostile act” is extremely wide and there is no threshold test required before a person is detained and examined. Individual officers could simply act on a “hunch”. This is not in itself inadequate, but it is nevertheless troubling given the breadth of the power. The guidance will be crucial and we consider it necessary for this guidance to be published immediately so that Parliament can consider it alongside its scrutiny of the Bill.
The vital safeguard of access to a lawyer is not adequately protected. In particular, it is not clear that individuals will be informed of their right to request access to a lawyer and yet access to a lawyer is apparently only available on request. Importantly, it would seem that access to a lawyer is not available when a person is initially questioned. There appears to be no justification for this from the Home Office. Access to a lawyer can be delayed by officers; we consider that there are more proportionate measures to mitigate risk than delaying access to a lawyer. We are also concerned at the lack of confidential access to a lawyer. Schedule 3 powers unjustifiably interfere with the right to timely and confidential legal advice, and therefore ultimately interfere with the right to a fair trial (if prosecutions are eventually brought). These provisions do not comply with the requirement that the law must contain sufficient safeguards to ensure that powers will not be exercised arbitrarily.
We recommend that serious consideration is given to circumscribing these powers by (1) clearly defining “hostile activity”; (2) requiring a threshold test of reasonable suspicion; (3) explicitly providing that the power must only be exercised where necessary and proportionate. Specifically, we recommend that the safeguards are strengthened, providing the right to access a lawyer immediately and in private.”