If 42 days is the answer, what's the question. Six months ago it could have been how long can a camel live without water, or how long does it take before you can eat a radish after sowing seeds, or even how long does a Blue Whale's orgasm last. Actually, I don't know the answers to any of these questions. But today, we do know with certainty, that the question must be 'How long do the police need to hold a suspected terrorist without charge?' At least that's according to Peter Clark, recently retired head of Scotland Yard's counter terrorism unit, writing in today's Telegraph. This is the first example of a credible witness giving support to the Government's plans to increase the detention without charge period from 28 to 42. Unless you count Ann Widdicombe I suppose.
I've followed the debate on this issue without any admiration. It looked very much that the idea of extending pre trial detention in the first place (to 90 days) was to make the Government look 'tough' on crime. I didn't have any respect for the Government's case. The 90 days was then dropped to 42 days. In 2004, the period was just 7 days. I have to admit I would be supportive of the Government's intention if I thought it would make us safer. But like Lord Goldsmith, I don't believe it will. All it will do is introduce a disproportionate detention period into our legal system which has not been shown to be necessary. Lord Goldsmith was Attorney General from 2001-2007, and tells us that in his experience, there has never been any evidence to support the case being made for the time extension. No evidence. No case. The proposal should be kicked out.
But Gordon Brown must win the argument over 42 days. He's finished as a credible Prime Minister if he loses this one. Which is why he will make whatever concession that is needed to satisfy the rebels. No matter that it may be rendered very difficult to invoke the 42 days. As long as the Ayes have it. But its wrong. Britain is sacrificing its commitment to proportionality and fairness within our justice system - just to save the face of a Prime Minister who has very little face left to save.