90 Days – Because its so complex?

One of the reasons the UK Government keeps pushing for changes to the law to allow for 90 days detention without trial is the complexity of terrorism cases.

The argument goes something like this:

  • We have arrested a man, who we know is guilty, but the evidence is so complex that we can’t prove it: E.g There are a tens of computers to search, hundreds of boxes of paper to search, and bags of credit cards, fake passports etc, its just all so complex, that we need more time to investigate before we charge.

This argument is flawed at virtually every point. Firstly if there are huge amounts of paper, say 1000s of pieces of paper  and 1000s of gigabytes of data to search through,  this information does not take 3 months to process.

In fact major law firms handle very large volumes of data on a daily basis, far larger than in terrorist cases. In fact there is a multi-billion dollar industry called “electronic discovery” that does exactly this. It trawls through huge amounts of data and presents it in an easy to read and search manner for the users/investigators.

Modern technology allows for concept searching, time line creation, and can now even “cluster” together documents of a similar nature automatically. This allows review teams/investigators, to find documents of relevance quickly, and then find other similar documents with matching concepts or within the same time line.

Having seen teams of lawyers plough through 100,000s of documents in a matter of weeks, then how come the UK government can’t do this?

The answer, sadly, is because the UK government simply does not have this technology. Having worked on both sides, I have seen the private sector complete a sizable review of documents in around 2 months, and the UK Government, on the other side, take around 9 to 10 months for the exact same case.

Secondly, just because a case is complex it doesn’t mean that it can’t be dealt with, and there is no need to review all of the documents. In fact the Bar Council had this to say on the issue of complexity.

Whilst terrorist cases may be complex in the sense that they may involve seizures of large volumes of material, the use of false identities, and international links, the scale of the investigations is not unusual. Investigations of comparable size and with the same features are found in drug trafficking and fraud cases. These features are not unique to terrorist cases and cannot justify further extension. The experience of the Bar is that very often whilst (due to the thoroughness of the investigative teams) large volumes of materials are seized, the real issues frequently involve a modest number of exhibits, the existence of which is well known from shortly after arrest. Detailed questions based upon recovered material are put to suspects in interview within the early stages of detention (the “interview material”), and this material is only exceptionally shown not to fairly represent the thrust of the allegation against suspects. Whilst further evidence may subsequently come to light which puts this “interview material” into a fresh light this is unlikely to bear upon the decision to charge.

This was put to the home office in a letter in 2007

In short, the Bar Council don’t see the size of cases to be an issue at all, and the Bar are the ones who have to prosecute and defend in these cases. It can also be shown that other cases of equally complex nature, e.g major frauds, are dealt with in the 24 hour detention period – rather than 90 days.

Thirdly, if the police have arrested a person with boxes of paper, a few false passports, and some credit cards, is he the real immediate threat? Is he somehow going to destroy the UK Rail network with the cunning use of credit cards?

Surely if the suspect has a few sticks of TNT, a clock, and some bright red curly wires – they have enough to charge him on, and it doesn’t take 90 days to work out what to charge him with? If there are no explosives, no bomb making kit, no car full of fertilizer – what danger does he pose? Bail him, carry on the investigation, and then charge him when you have the information.

If the suspect is really accused of organizing serious offences,  and there is a genuine concern that he will continue when he is released, is there nothing he can be charged with, just a  simple  holding charge, and then re-arrest the suspect later with the more serious offence?

Surely, if the suspect is such a serious threat/terrorist there must be some offence he can be charged with; offensive weapon, stolen credit cards, fake passports, or the like? If there is no evidence of weapons, or any crime,  then why the need to detain him for 90 days? What is the immediate threat?

But, if the security services still insist that he is a threat, that he can continue to plot and plan once released and they have nothing to charge him with at all, not even a stolen mobile phone, can they not just release him and follow him? There are dedicated teams in the police and security services for doing this, and it was certainly done regularly against the IRA, who were one of the most sophisticated terrorist organizations in the world. Far more organized than a couple of jokers from Burnley whose idea of “terrorist planning” involves buying some extra petrol for their car and driving at a building.

Surely it would be preferable to have more resources to conducted the surveillance than to change the law, with all the costs associate with changing the law, and the loss of rights the latter brings.

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One Response to “90 Days – Because its so complex?”

  1. Forensics: Computer Forensics – Police or Civil? « Data – Where is it? Says:

    […] would never be used within law enforcement; so much so that the UK government states that they need 90 days to look at couple of computers and change the laws to detain people for that long. Law firms do […]


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