Police to get new powers

Police could be given the power to question suspects after they have been charged, the Home Secretary has said.Although MPs are discussing the possibility of giving new powers to police to deal specifically with terror suspects, the Home Secretary has admitted that the Government is considering using the new powers with non-terror suspects too.

Jacqui Smith has said the government was also looking at whether to bring in such a change “more widely” to deal with non-terror crimes, according to the BBC.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, we’re looking actually, as part of our review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, at whether or not it is more widely appropriate, so it’s something that we’re considering more widely on a slightly slower timescale.”

The head of MI5 has also been summoned to appear before MPs to explain the plans to detain terrorist suspects without charge for longer.

In a highly unusual move, Jonathan Evans will be asked to give evidence about why the change may be needed in advance of a crucial Commons vote on the issue.

terrorist bus

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Members of the all-party home affairs committee are demanding to know if there have been any cases where a suspect had to be released because the current limit of 28 days proved too short.

Jacqui Smith said that no decision has yet been made on exactly how long the Government wants to be able to hold terror suspects.

The move came as the Commons began a week-long debate on the Queen’s Speech, with crime and terror the first areas to be discussed today.

It was revealed last month that Gordon Brown currently favours a new 56-day period, with weekly reviews by a judge, though he is keeping his options open pending a review.

The Queen’s Speech confirmed that the Government is intent on lengthening the limit, but Downing Street briefing notes on the Counter-Terrorism Bill avoided specifying a new limit.

Ministers are still trying to get crossparty consensus on the issue, but Shadow Home Secretary is determined to keep up the Tories’ opposition as there is no evidence that longer detention is needed.

It is rare for a director general of the Security Service to be interviewed by a Commons committee-on a politically-charged issue.

Mr Evans spoke candidly to newspaper editors this week about the scale of the terrorist threat confronting Britons, posed by Islamic extremists targeting school children.

MI5 chief Jonathan Evans

Under scrutiny: MPs want to quiz Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5 over terror detention laws

In a letter to Mr Evans, committee chairman Keith Vaz makes clear that the MPs expect him to be equally frank on the 28-day issue.

The committee is offering Mr Evans the chance to speak in private session with the press and public excluded if he feels his evidence could compromise security or interfere with criminal trials.

His responses, along with evidence from Met chief Sir Ian Blair and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, will be used by the committee in a report that will recommend whether or not the limit should be raised.

Mr Vaz said: “We have not had a single live case where anybody said they needed to keep a suspect beyond 27 days.”

There was speculation that Ms Smith may settle for those elements of the counter-terrorism bill – such as postcharge questioning of terror suspects – that have Tory backing and can get through parliament.

The Home Secretary has confirmed an increase in the detention time was on the cards to combat “a serious, sustained and growing threat”.

“Can you imagine if there was a situation where we had to release someone and they went on to commit a terrorist act?” she asked.

“You would be asking me why a serious policy maker had not listened to the advice that there was a growing trend of complexity in cases.”

© 2007 Associated Newspapers Limited