Thursday, January 27, 2005

Lipstick on a Pig

As seems to be the way of it, as soon as anything seems to get better we find it's just got worse. You would have thought that it was nothing but good news that the people detained in Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act (that's the one which allowed them to be detained indefinitely, without being told the charges against them) are going to be released, now that Charles Clarke has accepted the House of Lords ruling that their detention was illegal.

But no, they found a way to make it worse. Instead of locking them up, Clarky wants to impose a form of court order similar (here we go) to an Anti-Social Behaviour Order upon them. This would provide powers to forbid them from meeting named people, deny them the use of mobile phones or the internet, or even to place them under house arrest. Just as with the ATCSA, the orders would be issued by the Home Secretary on the basis of evidence that would not be disclosed. Just as with ATCSA, the test would be one of reasonable suspicion. If I'm not very much mistaken that's not just much weaker than the criminal test ("beyond reasonable doubt"), it's even weaker than the civil test ("on the balance of probabilities"). Just as with ATCSA, the only review would still be without you or your lawyer being told the charges against you.

The kicker is, though, that the new powers will apply not just to foreigners like ATCSA but to everyone. And they will no longer be restricted to those accused of international terrorism, but to terrorism in general. Now this should worry everyone. After all, if you give people more powers you should never be surprised if they use them. The Terrorism Act 2000, introduced to help fight - ah - terrorists, has since been frequently used to lock up participants in demonstrations. Who knows who might get a "control order" (or should that be banning order under the Suppression of Communism Act imposed on them in the future? This isn't putting lipstick on the pig. It's more like dragging the swine away and dyeing its hair blonde (L'Oreal. Because I'm worth it.), smearing unguents into its scratchy skin and polishing its yellow teeth, then taking it to see your friends.

But however hard you try with the make-up, you won't convince them it's not a pig. As soon as Tina trots into their dining room, they'll see her trotters and curly tail. When your porky date knocks over a table and guzzles everything on it, roots for crumbs around your feet with her snout and craps in the corner all the while oinking frenziedly, they won't believe a word from you. Indeed, to borrow a phrase, there will be nothing you could say now they would ever believe. In the end they will likely throw you out in the street, without your dinner or friends and with a furious peroxide sow to placate. And doing this sort of thing in the streets late at night with your tie under one ear tends to attract cops.

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