Cabinet is split over proposed 42-day detention limit

The first signs of a high-level Cabinet split over proposals to extend suspects’ detention to 42 days emerged yesterday as the government faced criticism from Labour backbenchers. Gordon Brown has been counselled by senior colleagues that there is no real need to push ahead with the extension, adding to the pressure from leading figures in the judiciary, including the director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald.

It is understood that senior figures in the Ministry of Justice, and law officers have privately expressed concern about pushing ahead with 42 days, saying that recent changes in the law make it unnecessary. The controversial counter terror bill received its second reading yesterday, but it is not likely to go to the crucial key votes on this aspect for two months.

It is understood that law officers, in common with the DPP, have been arguing that it is now possible to charge terrorists under the Crown Prosecution Service code, which uses a lower threshold that requires a reasonable suspicion that the suspect has committed an offence .

This threshold, lower than the normal test for charging of “realistic prospect of conviction”, can be applied where it would not be appropriate to release a suspect on bail after charges. Senior former members of the Blair cabinet point out that this lower threshold was only just coming into use at the time the former prime minister failed to persuade the Commons to allow 90-day pre-charge detention in 2005. They claim there has been vigorous argument in Cabinet to that the lower threshold test has severely weakened the case for 42 days detention. They also claim there is no realistic chance of getting 42 days through the Lords on the current basis.



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