The Terrorism Act 2000

Just because a thing is legal, does not make it right. There are many laws which are not right in the sense that they are not just. If a law is not just then applying it is an act of injustice, sanctioned by the state.

Recently Mr David Miranda was detained under the Terrorism Act while in transit at Heathrow Airport. He was searched and questioned for nine hours, which is the legal limit under the Terrorism Act. He committed no offence but he was known to be the partner of the Guardian journalist who published information provided by Edward Snowden, who exposed the extent of spying on citizens that has been going on in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

As such he was indirectly involved in embarrassing the United Kingdom government and its security services. It seems that no illegal material was found on Mr Miranda and he was free to go, after his detention, to Rio de Janeiro inconvenienced, no doubt highly stressed, but physically unharmed.

The Terrorism Act was brought into being as a result of activities in Northern Ireland by people who sought to separate the province from the United Kingdom. It pre-dates the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York and like all of the United Kingdom’s legislation which attempts to deal with terrorism, gives the police and the government such powers as makes the population that is being governed most uncomfortable. Indeed there is a noted lawyer, Mr David Anderson, who has been appointed as an independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

I have always believed that to protect our nation and our democracy we should never take up the weapons of the tyrants and the oppressors. Ultimately terrorism is a crime; it is no more than that. It may make us frightened. It may cause death and destruction, but so do many other crimes.

There is nothing to suggest that Mr Miranda was treated illegally, but there is everything to suggest that he was treated in a way to send a signal to his partner, Mr Greenwald about continuing to work with Mr Snowden. The foolishness of this approach is that Mr Greenwald is no doubt more determined than ever to expose material which the security services would rather keep secret.

If the police had grounds for believing that Mr Miranda was in some way implicated in terrorism then they could have established that in much less time than nine hours.

It is incredulous that the spouse of a respectable journalist of a respectable newspaper is involved in terrorism. There are no reasonable grounds for that belief that I am aware of, and none have been alleged.

The Terrorism Act 2000 was introduced as “An Act to make provision about terrorism; and to make temporary provision for Northern Ireland about the prosecution and punishment of certain offences, the preservation of peace and the maintenance of order.”

It defines Terrorism as

(1)In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where—

(a)the action falls within subsection (2),

(b)the use or threat is designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and

(c)the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause.

(2)Action falls within this subsection if it—

(a)involves serious violence against a person,

(b)involves serious damage to property,

(c)endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,

(d)creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or

(e)is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.

If you are stopped at a port or airport or railways station under Schedule 7 of the Act you must answer questions and given any information that the police seek. You have no right to silence. You can be stopped if you are suspected of terrorism or being concerned in terrorism.

As far as I can see there is no right to stop and question someone who is not suspected of being involved in terrorism and that well may mean that the detention of Mr Miranda was illegal. If I am wrong and his detention was legal, then I believe we need to amend the Terrorism Act 2000 so as to ensure that the act of embarrassing a government cannot be interpreted as Terrorism. After all our democratic right to change governments can only be exercised very five years and in the period s when we are stuck with a government embarrassment is one of the few ways that citizens can remind governments that they are the servants of the people, and not their masters.

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