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War on Terror. 42-Day Detention: An Equitable Solution? Essay

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Updated: Sep 24th, 2021


War on terror has become the most recent United States mantra as funds and focus on defense are the campaigns of its current administration. Consequently, in the United Kingdom, in June 2008, the House of Commons in Westminster voted in favour of allowing the detention of terrorism suspects for 42 days without charge, an extension to the already existing 28 days that police may hold suspects.

This paper will try to establish the reasons for such a decision by a democratic government as well as its effects on citizens of the United Kingdom. In a specific manner, this paper will:

  1. Explain a situation characterised by emotional public and political response;
  2. Conduct a thorough analysis of the situation in order to determine its direct and indirect causes;
  3. Explain both present and future effects;
  4. Present your own ideas for dealing with the situation.

Thesis Statement: Safety and home security is a shared responsibility between the government and its public, so that detention should not be practised at random but with discrimination.


Terrorism has caused much trouble, as may be recalled with the London train bombings in July 2005, as well as the United States September 11, 2001 experience. Many lives have been sacrificed and compromised with these seemingly senseless acts of terror, of which both ends are losers as the terrorists were identified as mainly suicide bombers.

This, along with imminent other threats, prompted the current United Kingdom administration to take up measures to curb terrorism threats. However, according to shadow home secretary David Davis, the proposed extension of the maximum time police can hold terror suspects to 42 days, “…has no authority, it has no legitimacy, and it will be thrown out” (quoted, BBC, par 3).

In June 2008, the House of Commons in Westminster voted in favour of allowing the detention of terrorism suspects for 42 days without charge, but this was met with uproar by those who opposed the proposal and had been subjected to contention prior to its discussion in the House of Lords.

The reason for Prime Minister Brown Gordon’s proposal for extending detention days of terrorist suspects remains a concern for home security as well as maximise government efforts to safeguard its citizens.

Labour representative John McDonnell said: “Any attempt to present this as some sort of victory for the government will ring absolutely hollow. There will be widespread consternation among our supporters in the country seeing a Labour government prepared to use every tactic available in its determination to crush essential civil liberties, which have been won by the labour movement over generations” (quoted, BBC, par 7). While the short view provides security for most citizens, it is not for those who may be randomly picked by police or armed officers who in most probability will remain “suspects”. To become a suspect in itself and be detained for hours is already quite unlawful as there is a need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a suspect is a criminal prior to detention.

The proposal for a 42-day pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects has been criticised by the human rights committee as a breach of human rights law. Wintour (par 3) quoted Frank Dobson, a leading organiser, who said, “The power to detain for up to 42 days is not confined to an emergency, it is there as an administrative convenience.” It had been noted that Dobson remembered when he became an MP that the police detained terrorism suspects for only three days (Wintour, par 11).

In addition to the liability on the part of the government to gather supporting evidence about the detention of a suspect, the proposed law also increases paranoia and unrest amongst those who are “eyed” as suspects, which could lead to defensive moves such as escape prior or during detention, riotous moves, amongst others.

In fact, even home secretary Jacqui Smith who made the announcement from the Prime Minister acknowledged that the extended powers might be needed after a substantial terrorist plot was identified. The human rights committee also emphasised the need for “any additional judicial safeguards for the individual at hearings to extend their detention.” The committee added that the absence of proper judicial safeguards during detention is one strong contention why the extension of the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 42 days without guaranteed judicial safeguard is a violation of the right to liberty under article 5 of the European convention on human rights (Wintour, par 9).

The proposal has been made in light of heightening home security and defence in the United Kingdom. There is the underlying effort of the government through its elected leaders a responsibility to address problems that either have been experienced in the past or with a probability to re-emerge, which in the case of terrorism, both a past experience and a looming threat.

Wintour (par 5) quoted the committee, which claimed the proposal “can only be made meaningful if there is an opportunity for that assertion to be tested by independent scrutineers, whether in parliament or the courts.” Andrew Dismore, the chairman of the committee, added that the proposed extension to 42 days is already deemed unlawful. As such, Smith’s announcement that the new powers would only be invoked during a “grave, exceptional” terror threat or attack was quite loose and needed a more convincing argument and premise. (Wintour, par 5)

The increasing efforts of the United States, a known ally of the UK, to build up its defence and solidify home security as far away from its lands as possible, as well as the US administrations, focus on the war on terror definitely has an effect on the UK’s own home security so that “trends” or possible US government moves are often incongruent with its ally governments such as the UK. Brown was criticised as forcing in abandon the matter to a vote and using the “war on terror” for political posturing that further discredited Parliament (Hyland, par 3). Brown’s refusal to back down on his proposal was motivated by “national security” concerns.

It was, however, noted that it took a long for police to trawl through computers and decrypt potential terror plots within the existing system. Hyland (par 5) also pointed out that out of the 1,113 people arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 between September 11, 2001, and September 30, 2006, only 104 were charged with specific terror-related offences. Since the limit was raised to 28 days in 2006, 11 suspects have been detained without charge for more than 14 days.

The 42-day detention’s immediate effect is the use of taxpayer’s money for the detention process, from identifying and tailing a suspect to apprehension and actual detention. Expenses do not end within those expanses. As an established or forced suspect is apprehended, the liability lies on the government to produce evidence that has to prove beyond reasonable doubt the suspect as a criminal.

Aside from the financial and detention burdens, there is already an existing imminent violation of human rights for the detention of a suspected terrorist. It removes the person’s civil and human rights to live freely in a democratic society, which the UK professes. Outside the UK, there is also the European Union to answer to as it is possible that apprehended and detained suspects are limited to UK citizenship. While other races or nationalities remain at the mercy of countries such as the UK and the US, this does not also imply an automatic international immunity to existing global understanding and treatises which are at stake for all illegal acts done by a government to citizens of this world.

Hyland (par 7) viewed the move as another dent on the remains of habeas corpus. Britain has been considered in the international community as the home of personal liberty. But with the 42-day pre-charge detention, UK becomes one of the most undemocratic in the world and worse compared to Zimbabwe under the rule of Robert Mugabe. The British government openly as well as regularly condemned the Zimbabwe administration as dictatorial and authoritarian (Hyland, par 7).


As already expressed, the current detention of 28 days for suspected terrorists is enough for the police department to establish guilty and innocent parties. In my own assessment and understanding, a need to cooperate with private citizens in the process of identifying suspects is important so that the liability does not rest on government jurisdiction alone but a shared responsibility.

In dividing the responsibility between officers and the public, there is an identified wider ground of responsibility that makes every citizen answerable for the safety of the land and its people, which in return has a government that does its duty 24-hours a day for the safety of the public without compromising the rights of innocent and apprehended suspects.

While the need to safeguard the public is a noble government concern based on actual bombings and deaths, other ways to control the threat of terrorism can be considered without compromising the protected rights of individuals to remain free and innocent unless proven guilty under due process of law. One of the ways to do this is to strengthen the security process as well upgrade skills and knowledge of the police and armed forces.


Keys for Writers by Ann Raimes BBC. “” BBC News. 2008. Web.

Hyland, Julie (2008). “” World Socialist. Web.

Wintour, Patrick (2008). “42-day detention would breach human rights law despite concessions, MPs warn.” Guardian. Web.

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