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Friday, March 11, 2005


the lords

britain has released seven terrorism suspects as the house of lords -- one of england's last vestigages of the peerage -- stood in rare defiance of the commons and their attempts to subvert the tradition of ancient english rights in the hysterical panic over terrorism.

The judge overseeing the tribunal holding them under the expiring measures sent one detainee home under severe bail restrictions and signed orders freeing seven more under similar terms. A further two will stay jailed for reasons unrelated to the terrorism powers.

The judge's orders effectively ended a three-year policy of holding the men without charge or trial under emergency laws, which were passed after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and ruled unlawful by judges last year and expire on Sunday.

But the terms of their bail -- that they wear electronic tags, stay home for 12 hours a day and refrain from pre-arranged meetings -- depend on the old powers due to expire. Prime Minister Tony Blair wants new powers to replace them.

Both of Britain's houses of parliament, the Commons and the Lords, debated through the night and well into the afternoon. Parliament was due to shut on Thursday, but official timekeepers stopped the clock at one minute before midnight.

The unelected Lords repeatedly voted to block the bill, weighing centuries-old rights against the need to protect Britain. Never before in modern times have the Lords defied the Commons with such tenacity.

If they continue to do so, they could force parliament to sit at the weekend for the first time since 1982, when members met over the Falklands War.
i often inveigh against plebiscitarian democracy as little more than axle grease on the skidramp that ends in the cesspool of tyranny. it heartens me to see that the lords -- invulnerable to the political shams, propaganda and muckraking that bewilder and panic the mob -- will take their prerogative to stand against britain's decline into a police state.

The old law allowed foreigners to be detained indefinitely without charge if suspected of terrorism. The new measures would apply to Britons as well, allowing the government to impose a range of restrictions, up to house arrest without trial.

Both require Britain to suspend the right to a fair trial guaranteed under European law, the only country to do so.

The elected Commons backed Blair after he made concessions.

But the unelected Lords, who by convention are expected to yield to the elected chamber, refused to back down, saying the new measures revoke fundamental rights.

Bleary-eyed Lords, many elderly, returned to reject the bill at 0500 GMT after a few hours sleep in offices or nearby hotels. By early afternoon, they showed no signs of a quick climbdown, with the bill set to ping pong between the two chambers through the rest of Friday at least.

A black-clad official in a wig carried the bill back and forth through the ornate corridors of Westminster between the two chambers as each voted to reject the other's version.
here's hoping they hold out -- in spite of the people of britain, for the sake of the people of britain.

UPDATE: a deal has been struck, ensuring that the opposition will be granted review of the law in january 2006 and that a higher standard of proof need be met to allow the most sensitive provisions of the law be used -- perceived a victory for the lords and tories.

meanwhile, the press covers the inability of the british police to convict under terrorism laws, despite their widespread use to arrest and harass. "There is clear evidence of disquiet in the Muslim community and a belief that they're being disproportionately targeted," said Barry Hugill of Liberty. "When so many people are taken in for questioning and so few are convicted, it leads many to question the intelligence behind the raids."

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