Extrajudicial detention, U.K., Northern Ireland

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For more information, see: Extrajudicial detention, U.K..
See also: The Troubles

Formal preventive detention authority, a form of extrajudicial detention of the United Kingdom for Northern Ireland, goes back to 1922. [1] It designated, as responsible civil authority, the Minister of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland who "may delegate, either unconditionally or subject to such conditions as he thinks fit, all or any of his powers under this Act to any officer of police..." Trial would be by a "court of summary jurisdiction constituted in accordance with this section, and not otherwise," although a specific appeals process, outside the regular court system. Basic detention could be "imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds or to both such imprisonment and fine. whipping was authorized for some offenses, and the death penalty for others. The latter would be carried out "as sentence might have been pronounced and carried into execution, and proceedings might have been had and taken, upon a conviction for murder" by the regular courts, but not going thrugh them.

On August 9, 1971, Prime Minister Brian Faulkner announced reactivation of the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act allowing the preventive detention of suspected terrorists. Going back to 1922, it had been active between 1956 and 1961. There are issues of its being compliant with the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, of the Council of Europe. Great Britain signed the Convention in November 1950, but stated a reservation for states of war.

After consultation with U.K. Prime Minister Ted Heath, the decision had been made days before, but the announcement was deferred to give the British Army time to deploy for its implementation. On that day, over 300 persons were detained by dawn raids.[2] Faulkner said "The terrorists' campaign continues at an unacceptable level and I have had to conclude that the ordinary law cannot deal comprehensively or quickly enough with such ruthless violence."

While the Government said it had no intention to recall Parliament, Opposition shadow Home Secretary, James Callaghan called for a special session to review the situation."Quite obviously the government must act against gunmen shooting in the main streets of Belfast, especially as the shootings are growing. Internment, however, is only a short-term measure. And although it worked before in temporarily removing the leadership of the IRA, it proved to be no long-term solution to the problem."

There have been a succession of detention laws and regulations, with different criteria for detention, periods of detention permitted, and requirements. In 1988, a week after the British Government had asked for legislation to make this permanent in 1988, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that "pre-arraignment detention for up to a week of people suspected of connections with terrorist groups," violated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This gave Britain six months to change the policy or seek a waiver within six months.

The ruling, by the European Court of Human Rights, means that Britain will have to change its law, or seek special exemption within six months, according to British lawyers familiar with the case. The Home Office, which only last Friday asked Parliament to put the Prevention of Terrorism law on a permanent footing, said it would consider the court decision before the House of Commons takes up the new bill. [3]


  1. Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland), CAIN Web Service, 1922
  2. "1971: NI activates internment law", BBC News, August 9, 1971
  3. Craig R. Whitney (November 30, 1988), "British Detention Law Is Ruled a Breach of Rights", New York Times