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7 January 1998 Edition

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Emergency laws threat to human rights

The British Government's plan to make emergency legislation permanent in the Six Counties and Britain has been criticised by the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ).

The CAJ's Paul Mageean said, ``we have consistently maintained that emergency measures have been both unnecessary and counterproductive. Experience shows that emergency type powers have not prevented violence in the past. The Good Friday Agreement clearly envisioned a break with emergency powers. So it is disappointing that instead the [British] government is proposing to slightly adapt current emergency laws and place them on a permanent basis.''

Mageean added that the UN Committee Against Torture's recent report that condemned the British government's record, had concluded that the continuation of emergency law measures was a serious impediment to the promotion of rights and compliance with the Convention against Torture.

The British proposals for a single unitary piece of legislation to replace the PTA and EPA were released in the `neutral' ``legislation against terrorism'' consultation document.

But while recognition that debate about ending the seven day detention powers or the need for solicitors to be present during interrogation is welcomed, Mageean added that the retention of special powers in the Six Counties and Diplock courts was not the way forward. He said, ``there have been emergency powers since 1922 and there needs to be a complete break with the past and the reliance of the RUC on such powers. There is also no discussion about the need to remove the new post-Omagh legislation.''

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