Alice through the Looking Glass (part 1 of many)
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
Dodgson CL, 1872, Alice through the Looking Glass
The Home Office seems to share Humpty’s views:
Mr Miranda was held under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This allows police to hold someone at an airport for up to nine hours for questioning about whether they have been involved with acts of terrorism.
BBC News Website 19 August 2013: David Miranda detention: MP asks police for explanation
But of course it is the Terrorism Act, not the Anti-Terrorism act. So minor acts of intimidation are OK.
Like stopping someone and holding them incommunicado for 9 hours. Miranda of course probably has a hearty dislike of the UK and US security services (particularly now), but that does not make him a terrorist. Guilt by association apparently is OK; he shares a house with a journalist who has published leaked material. (He might have danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales – but that does not make him “royal”. Herbert Farjeon 1927)
It’s a bit like the way that the War on Terror became a War of Terror and turned so many against the US (and its allies) and bogged us down in two wars – each of which lasted longer than either of the World Wars of the 20th Century.
So we have Terror Legislation rather than Anti-Terror Legislation (Thank-you Tony, you’re a great defender of liberty).
What is schedule 7 and how does it work?
Under the schedule, UK police can stop, examine and search passengers at ports, airports and international rail terminals.
A passenger can be held for questioning for up to nine hours and those detained must “give the examining officer any information in his possession which the officer requests”.
Any property seized must be returned after seven days, but data from mobile phones and laptops may be downloaded and retained by the police for longer.
Those detained are compelled to answer questions from the police and must not “obstruct” or “frustrate” any police searches.
If someone fails to co-operate they are deemed to have committed a criminal offence and could face up to three months in prison, a fine or both.
The Home Office says schedule 7 “forms an essential part of the UK’s security arrangements” and it is for the police to decide when it is “necessary and proportionate to use these powers”.
Unlike with some other police powers to stop and search, there is no requirement for an officer to have a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is involved with terrorism before they are stopped.
BBC Website 19 August 2013: David Miranda row: What is schedule 7? (My underlining)
Note that there is no right to legal representation. So you are travelling through a UK port (not China, Burma, Zimbabwe etc.) and you are pulled to one side by “an official” and your are told:
- You have no right to representation
- You can be held incommunicado for 9 hours
- You must co-operate and answer all questions or face prison
- Your property can be seized
I think you would believe that you had passed “through the Looking Glass”. If it happened to me I would not believe the official, and possibly tell him he is talking “bullshit” and refuse to say anything until I saw a “duty solicitor” and consequently end up in prison (presumably convicted of a Terrorism offence – which would prevent me travelling to many countries).
What horrifies me is that this sort of legislation got through the House of Commons – even before 9/11! It makes me wonder if the House of Commons is an effective body for holding the executive to account and scrutinising legislation.
Perhaps Humpty has different meanings for “holding the executive to account” and “scrutinising legislation”.