Falconer: MPs not lawyers key in terror fight

The government is more important than the legal system when it comes to the fight against terrorists, the lord chancellor has said.

“In overcoming terrorism, policy must come first, the law second,” Lord Falconer said in a speech in London.

“By this I mean that whilst the response must be lawful the policy makers not the lawyers must determine that response, and whilst legislation will have its role it will only be a part of the response.”

But this does not mean human rights should take a back seat, he added.

“Far from being a straightjacket limiting our ability to defend ourselves, human rights and the Human Rights Act are essential in identifying, defining and protecting the values that we must put to the forefront of the struggle against terrorism,” Lord Falconer argued.

The lord chancellor rejected as “utter nonsense” the idea that counter terrorism legislation was “designed to target Muslims” or that the UK had become a police state.

Lord Falconer said that the fact this comment was made on Newsnight was ironic, but it was also “ridiculous and depressing”.

The laws are made in an elected parliament, and apply equally to everyone in the country, he emphasised.

“The first duty of government is to protect its citizens,” he said, adding: “We will change the law where it helps to fight terrorism. We will change the law to achieve this on the basis we will encroach on the community’s freedoms as little as is necessary to protect us all.”

But while protecting law abiding citizens, safeguards have also been built into the system.

“We will always draw the line between targeting those who break the law, and those who don’t. Yes, we recognise the risk that from time to time the net may go too wide. But only initially. Because we build in safeguards,” he said.

“Terrorism has been described as the ‘weapon of the weak’ – to counter it we must have the moral strength not to debase our values human rights, freedoms, rule of law. These are our most effective weapons in the fight against terror.

“We will not win in spite of these values but because of them.”

Opposition parties welcomed the commitment to human rights, but added that past government policy had led to many of the confusions.

“Thank goodness the lord chancellor has now realised that the government’s wobbling on the human rights convention did nobody any good,” said Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman Simon Hughes.

“If the government had been clear from the beginning and sold the benefit of human rights consistently for the last ten years we wouldn’t have had to listen to some of the nonsense of the last few months.”

Shadow constitutional affairs secretary Oliver Heald added that some of the lord chancellor’s comments do not apply to the Human Rights Act.

“Lord Falconer is talking about the Human Rights Act he should have passed, not the flawed Human Rights Act we have. British judges should be allowed to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights to take account of British circumstances.”

He added: “The lord chancellor’s suggestion that legislation should not be the first recourse in the battle against terrorism amounts to a massive U-turn by a government that has added two thousand crimes to the statute book.”