Legislation to protect the public against terrorism has given the authorities certain exceptional powers for dealing with and preventing terrorist activities, while taking account of the need to achieve a proper balance between the safety of the public and the rights of the individual. While acknowledging that the special powers make inroads into civil liberties, the Government believes that they should continue in force as long as a substantial terrorist threat remains. Nobody can be imprisoned for political beliefs; all prisoners, except those awaiting trial, have been found guilty in court of criminal offences.
The Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Acts give the security forces in Northern Ireland special powers to search, question and arrest suspected terrorists; allow the Secretary of State to proscribe terrorist organisations; and provide for certain serious offences to be tried by a judge sitting alone without a jury to obviate the dangers of intimidation of jurors. This Act makes provision for statutory time limits to be imposed on the time an accused person may be held in custody awaiting trial although these powers so far have not been invoked. The maximum period for which the police can hold a suspected terrorist on their own authority has been reduced from 72 to 48 hours. Statements obtained by the use or threat of violence are inadmissible in court.
The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, which is applicable throughout the United Kingdorn, provides for the exclusion from Great Britain, Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom of people connected with terrorism related to Northern Ireland affairs and for the proscription of terrorist organisations in Great Britain. It also gives the police powers to arrest people suspected of being involved in terrorism (whether international or relating to Northern Ireland) without warrant and hold them for 48 hours and, with the approval of the Secretary of State, for up to a further fivedays.
Both Acts are reviewed annually by an independent person reporting to the Government. The Emergency Provisions Acts are renewable each year by Parliament. The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act expired in 1989 and the Government is proposing that its replacement should have no limit on its time-span but should continue to be reviewed annually by Parliament.
The security forces in Northern Ireland are subject to the law and can be prosecuted for criminal offences. An independent commission deals
with complaints made against police officers.
The Criminal Jurisdiction Act makes it possible to try in Northern Ireland a person accused of certain offences committed in the Irish Republic. It also enables evidence to be obtained in Northern Ireland for the trial of offences in the Irish Republic. Reciprocal legislation is in force in the Irish Republic. One of the aims of the Anglo-Irish Agreement signed in November 1985 is to improve security cooperation in combating terrorism. The accession of the Irish Government to the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism is expected to increase the prospects of securing extradition from the Republic of people accused or convicted of terrorist crimes in Britain.
Britain attaches importance to international action to combat terrorism and plays an active part in the work of a group of European Community ministers (known as 'Trevi') which facilitates the confidential exchange of information and intelligence about terrorism affecting member countries. Britain believes that there should be no concessions to terrorist demands and that international cooperation should take place on tracking down and arresting terrorists and on impeding the movement of inter- national terrorists from one country to another.