The Terrorism Act 2000, David Miranda and the rule of law.

5946829399_e633991652_oFurther details continue to emerge about the case of David Miranda. There are those who think that it is acceptable to use the Terrorism Act 2000 to pursue someone carrying information that may or may not be sensitive to the UK.

However, even if David Miranda was carrying documents to Glenn Greenwald, on a ticket paid for by the Guardian, it doesn’t change the fundamental facts.

Miranda was detained under the Terrorism Act 2000 and section 40(1)(b) of that legislation defines a “terrorist” as:

“a person who…is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.”

Schedule 7 gives the police the power to detain someone for up to nine hours “for the purpose of determining whether he appears to be a person falling within section 40(1)(b).”

So, the only purpose for which someone can be detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is to ascertain if they are a terrorist, as defined by the statute.

Sadly, various people seem to be entirely missing this point, arguing that it is fair game to lift someone suspected of carrying something that might be in the UK’s interest to keep secret.

If that was the case then any journalist flying in and out of the UK – whether they are carrying a CD with details of MPs expenses, details of sweetheart tax deals or the activities of a political, royal or corporate figure could all potentially have their collar felt and their possessions confiscated.

Perhaps more importantly, how do we respond when foreign Governments apply exactly the same test to journalists, activists or indeed political figures when they attempt to expose wrongdoing in those countries, arguably in the interests of Britain and that country’s citizens, but definitely not in the interests of the Government of the day.

One of the fundamental elements of the rule of law is that laws are used for the purpose for which they are passed. If Parliament had intended to give the Police and agencies the powers to detain people suspected of carrying out activity detrimental to the UK’s national interests, they could have done. Indeed, in various pieces of legislation they have done exactly that.

Parliament did not. Legislation allows detention to determine if someone is a terrorist, and unless the Met are able to argue David Miranda was, or is, “concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism” then his detention was unlawful and should deeply trouble us all.