The detention of David Miranda was an unlawful use of the UK’s Terrorism Act

Charles Falconer, former UK lord chancellor and first secretary of state for justice, writes: The 2000 Terrorism Act, which I helped introduce, was not passed with people like David Miranda in mind. The issue then was how to secure lasting peace in Northern Ireland, and the act was designed to make it difficult for Irish dissident terrorists to come to the mainland. Schedule 7 of the act, which has come to public attention this week following Miranda’s detention at Heathrow, was retained from earlier legislation on the advice of Lord Lloyd of Berwick. Reviewing the evidence, he had found that the ability of officers to randomly stop and search people who were entering or leaving the country had disrupted terrorist operations.

So it was right in 2000 – and it is still right today – that police or immigration authorities should have powers to detain and question people in order to determine whether they are terrorists.

However, it is also right that schedule 7 powers can only be used “for the purpose of determining” whether the detained person is a terrorist. The use of the power to detain and question someone who the examining officer knows is not a terrorist is plainly not for this purpose, so it would neither be within the spirit nor the letter of the law.

There is no suggestion that Miranda is a terrorist, or that his detention and questioning at Heathrow was for any other reason than his involvement in his partner Glenn Greenwald’s reporting of the Edward Snowden story. The state has not even hinted there is a justification beyond that involvement. While there may be relevant facts of which I know nothing, it is reasonable to proceed on the basis that was the reason for the powers being used.

The Terrorism Act defines a terrorist as someone “involved in committing preparing or instigating acts of terrorism”. Miranda is plainly not committing or preparing acts of terrorism. [Continue reading…]

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