Terrorism is, quite rightly, at the forefront of the public’s minds. After the travesties in Australia and France which have showcased how dangerous terrorism ideology can be, whether expressed by a group or a lone wolf, this is a sensitive and powerful issue.
Whilst outright condemnation of the acts is necessary, it is also easy compared to the next steps taken in order to prevent further loss of life. However the issue of civil liberties is also of equal importance and intrinsic value to the UK legal system and many of the problems faced by Parliament now is balancing these objectives.
Currently Parliament employs an independent reviewer of legislation aimed at terrorism, the current holder being David Anderson QC. Mr Anderson has high level access to anti-terror agencies, including the police and intelligence services, as well as access to classified documents. As Mr Anderson indicates on his website such openness for an individual who is not a part of The #Government is nearly unprecedented. All this access has enabled the independent reviewer to submit their view to Parliament in order that MPs can discuss the views of police, academics, journalists and campaigners.
To have this level of contribution and transparency in an area that is prone, for obvious reasons, to a great deal of secrecy is highly valuable and befitting the democracy in which we live. However Theresa May has proposed that this independent post be changed to the privacy and civil liberties board. Eagle eyed readers will spot the lack of the word ‘independent’ which was dropped from the name of the board in the government’s November's reveal of the counter-terrorism and #Security bill. Also might be noted is perhaps the significant use of privacy, as opposed to any other of the liberties such as rights to fair trial, hearings or free speech. Which suggests that privacy will be receiving top billing to the detriment of other liberties, or perhaps they merely thought the ‘privacy and civil liberties board’ just sounded catchy.
However, as Teresa May has quoted the current independent reviewer Mr Anderson has indicated that the board could be for the greater good, in July Mr Anderson was quoted as saying “such a board if properly constituted could bring advantages.” May, however, in typical politician style failed to mention that Mr Anderson also pointed out that it could also ‘substantially diminish’ the value of the group as sharing classified information to large amounts of people could induce reluctance amongst the intelligence and law enforcements services.
Mr Anderson has further voiced concerns on his website, recently, which suggests turning the post into a chaired board could mean inefficiency and competing claims on the chairman’s time which would be detrimental to the overall work. Mr Anderson also expressed concerns about the need to be highly selective in the appointment of board members to ensure political leanings did not affect the impartiality of the board, as well as the need for members to be ‘doers rather than talkers.’
As it stands the independent reviewer is a part-time post, giving the holder, like Mr Anderson a fallback position to his already successful QC role. This endows the post with a great amount of liberty to be able to express his own opinions on the evidence before him, untied to a particular party line or threat of reprisal. The new chairman of the board, if it succeeds, will doubtfully be able to operate on the same level of independence. In my mind less independence and more red tape is the last thing that anti-terror discussion are in need of at this current time.