In democratic states, the courts can help safeguard civil liberties against excessive legislative and executive efforts to combat terrorism
Roger Douglas compares responses to terrorism by five liberal democracies—the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—over the past 15 years. He examines each nation’s development and implementation of counterterrorism law, specifically in the areas of information-gathering, the definition of terrorist offenses, due process for the accused, detention, and torture and other forms of coercive questioning.
Douglas finds that terrorist attacks elicit pressures for quick responses, often allowing national governments to accrue additional powers. But emergencies are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for such laws, which may persist even after fears have eased. He argues that responses are influenced by both institutional interests and prior beliefs, and complicated when the exigencies of office and beliefs point in different directions. He also argues that citizens are wary of government’s impingement on civil liberties and that courts exercise their capacity to restrain the legislative and executive branches. Douglas concludes that the worst antiterror excesses have taken place outside of the law rather than within, and that the legacy of 9/11 includes both laws that expand government powers and judicial decisions that limit those very powers.
Roger Douglas is Professor of Law at La Trobe University.