(London, UK) Calls by leading politicians for a toughening of counter-terrorism laws will ultimately erode civil liberties, says campaign group CAGE.

Theresa May has vowed to introduce anti-terror ASBOs and possibly ban groups that "fall short of the legal threshold for terrorist proscription" [1], while Boris Johnson has proposed to overturn the principle of innocent until proven guilty so that anyone travelling to Iraq or Syria should have to prove they had not joined proscribed groups, or otherwise face prosecution. [2]

While such appeals will often make it onto the front covers of newspapers and indicate to voters the government is ‘getting tough on ‘terrorism’, they are often the result of a politician’s desire to play the populist card.

Such knee-jerk reactions can have dangerous repercussions, as pointed out by former counter-terrorism chief, Richard Barrett, yesterday. Barrett, who headed counter-terrorism operations for both MI6 and MI5 claimed that the threat posed by groups such as IS were ‘unproven’ and that ‘this [guilty until proven innocent] fundamental tenet of British justice should not be changed.’ [3]

The government might argue that such laws are needed ‘just in case something happens’, but the War on Terror has already shown what happens when fundamental principles such as the rule of law and ‘innocent until proven guilty’ are not taking seriously: individual lives are ruined and radicalisation is fueled.

These proposed legislative changes represent another step in the reducing of citizens’ rights and is another example of the coalition taking an identical, draconian approach to interacting with the Muslim community as its Labour predecessor.

Asim Qureshi of CAGE [4], said: ‘These proposed legislative changes are the sort of thing we expect from third world tinpot dictators. Prescribing easy solutions to complex problems will fail to tackle the root causes of these conflicts and will only fan the flames further.'

‘It is a damning indictment of our legislative culture that even spy-chiefs are now falling over themselves to warn of dangers posed by the government’s counter-terrorism measures.’ [5] [6] [7]




1. Theresa May's planned changes can be read here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11052486/Theresa-May-New-laws-to-tackle-British-jihadists.html

2. Boris Johnson's planned changes can be read in this article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/11054093/Do-nothing-and-we-invite-the-tide-of-terror-to-our-front-door.html

3. Richard Barrett's comment to the Guardian can be read here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/terror-training-in-syria-makes-attack-on-uk-inevitable-9241144.html

4. CAGE (formerly known as CagePrisoners) is an independent advocacy organisation that works to empower communities affected by the War on Terror and to highlight abuses of due process.

5. Barrett has in the past criticised government counter-terrorism efforts, describing the British government’s blanket arrest of Britons returning from Syria as a ‘kneejerk reaction’ back in April: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/terror-training-in-syria-makes-attack-on-uk-inevitable-9241144.html

6. Richard Barrett's latest intervention comes months after a speech by a former MI6 Chief, Sir Richard Dearlove in which he claimed the threat posed by groups such as IS had been exaggerated. That speech can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeFFtiEtriA

7. CAGE's report on the threat of blowback from Syria can be read here: http://cageuk.org/publication/blowback-foreign-fighters-and-threat-they-pose

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)