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UK Mulling Secret 'Terror Court' Plans

Britain is mulling secret pre-trial terror hearings in which a security-vetted judge would examine evidence without a jury to decide how long a suspect should be held without charge, two newspapers said yesterday.

If introduced, this "inquisitorial" system of justice would mark a huge departure from Britain's centuries old "adversarial" process, The Guardian and The Times reported.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week said the government was "already examining a new court procedure which would allow a pre-trial process" as part of a series of proposals to clamp down on Muslim extremism in the wake of the London bombings and attempted bombings on July 7 and July 21 respectively.

The court plan being considered by the Home Office would give a special judge access to sensitive intelligence material including evidence from phone taps in drawing up a pre-trial case, The Guardian said.

Suspects would be represented by security-cleared advocates but they would be barred from revealing to their clients the evidence under which they were being held.

Such a system would provide a way of meeting requests by the police and security services that the detention period for a terror suspect before charge should be extended from the current 14 days up to three months.

Simon Hughes, legal affairs spokesman for the smaller opposition Liberal Democrat Party, suggested that there "may be a case" for security-cleared judges doing special work, but he doubted a major extension of the time suspects were held could be justified.

"Suddenly to say you can justify three months when we've only got two weeks now of detention, you will need to persuade us and a lot of other people much more than has been done so far," he told BBC2's Newsnight on Monday.

"If the evidence is there yes, we'll take it but the evidence has not been shown and I am doubtful it would be persuasive."

Edward Garnier, a spokesman for the main opposition Conservatives, urged the government to "calm down and think these things through" and consult other parties on the detailed proposals.

Suspect questioned

British investigators yesterday questioned for the first time the suspect in the failed July 21 London bombings who is jailed in Rome.

Antonietta Sonnessa, lawyer for Ethiopian-born Hamdi Issac, said the questions asked by British authorities "concentrated on the circumstances of the act and the reasons for it."

Sonnessa said a few British officials questioned her client in English, and an Italian magistrate translated. She said Issac replied in Italian.

Britain wants Issac extradited for his alleged role in the botched attack in the Shepherd's Bush subway station last month.

Sonnessa said Issac had repeated earlier statements that "`it was a demonstrative act, and that he knew that the contents of the bag were not aimed to kill."

The lawyer briefed reporters outside Regina Coeli prison, about three hours after the British investigators arrived.

(China Daily August 10, 2005)


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