Reid calls for human rights re-write

The home secretary John Reid has been accused of presenting a false choice between security and liberty, as he urged his international counterparts to rewrite human rights law to take the threat of terrorism into account.

Speaking at a conference in Vienna, Mr Reid complained old assumptions about wartime needs and peacetime civil liberties no longer apply in a post-9/11 world.

“We are all having difficulty adapting to this new situation for which neither the law of war, as previously defined, nor the normal civil law is particularly designed or well suited. Unless we address this gap we are likely to be pushed in two competing directions,” he claimed.

Mr Reid warned following human rights laws “to the letter” fails to adequately protect the public. Politicians must remember that the right to security and protection of life and liberty is the basic right on which all others are based, he argued.

The home secretary, who is due to step down from the post in a matter of weeks, urged international politicians to re-write existing human rights laws.

He said: “We need to work to modernise the law – still protecting human rights and still providing equity and justice – but reflecting the reality of the conflicts and struggles we now face.

“Politicians must expose these issues and set a lead, so that we can protect the rights of all our citizens, including all those threatened by terrorism.”

However, the Liberal Democrats accused Mr Reid of presenting a false choice between security and liberty and urged him to tread with care.

“He claims that he is simply floating ideas for the technical revision of existing human rights law,” commented home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg.

“But this government’s record on everything from 90 days detention without charge to control orders suggests that ministers have been content to accept a crude trade-off of liberty in the name of security.

“This is not only a false choice, but overlooks the real priorities in strengthening our defences against terrorism, such as improved intelligence and greater community cohesion.”

The Conservatives, who have long been sceptical of the Human Rights Act, were more sympathetic towards Mr Reid’s argument.

Nevertheless, shadow home secretary David Davis, insisted it was “imperative” the government strikes the correct balance between security and fundamental freedoms.

He also criticised Mr Reid’s decision to make the statement in the twilight of his career at the Home Office.

“It is just not good enough, weeks before he leaves office to make a last minute attempt to address these issues. It is not credible at home or abroad. We need time, determination and constant focus to meet these difficult challenges,” Mr Davis said.

One Cabinet minister described Mr Reid’s statement as “extraordinary”. They told the Telegraph “It shows how demob happy John is that he can make major constitutional pronouncements like this without telling his cabinet colleagues about it. It all looks very messy.”