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UK terror bill locks Lords, Commons in ferocious all-night debate

[JURIST] A proposed anti-terror law pitted the UK House of Lords and House of Commons against each other in a ferocious debate Thursday night and Friday morning as amended and re-amended versions of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill [official text of legislation as introduced] bounced between the two chambers and Prime Minister Tony Blair and his ministers fought to push their policy preferences through Parliament before current government powers to hold terror suspects without charge or trial expire on Monday, forcing the release of eight allegedly dangerous suspects from London's Belmarsh prison. An English judge said Thursday he had already approved the releases "in principle." In what some observers described as "chaotic" scenes, Blair and UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke repeatedly invoked the democratic legitimacy of the elected Commons where a Labour party majority favored the legislation, while the Lords - dominated by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats - made their stand on civil liberties principles and on the importance of holding the government accountable to a rule of law superior to arbitrary power. Much debate and disagreement centered on the Lords' insistence on a "sunset clause" that would impose a strict 12-month time limit on the lifetime of the bill.

At press time the bill had returned to the Commons for a fourth time with the sunset clause re-inserted. JURIST will carry today's debate live on our front page (check the Live Webcasts links on the right side of your screen). If all else fails, Blair and the Commons can force through their legislation by invoking the Parliament Act, allowing the Lords to be effectively overridden, but with a general election likely pending in the next few months such a move would be politically dangerous. AFP has more. BBC News provides continuing local coverage and an earlier video report.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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