The freedom of the individual is increasingly under threat in Britain. The government's new laws against terrorism mean that in certain cases the principle of habeas corpus - the 800year-old right of the individual to protection against arbitrary arrest and detention without recourse to the law - will cease to exist. That is bad enough. Even worse is the suggestion made yesterday by the country's most senior law lord, Lord Wolff, that some people should be kept in custody indefinitely without ever having been convicted of a crime. Those in Lord Wolff's sights are paedophiles and his idea is that when they have been identified as likely to commit an offence against a young person they should be detained until such time as experts on their condition are satisfied that they can safely be released.

In an interview on the BBC's Today programme Lord Wolff said he recognised that his proposal would be a “huge step” but thought it worth considering as a way of balancing the human rights of society as a whole and those of individuals with “an illness they cannot control”.

Once identified these individuals would be kept in what he called “civil detention” where they would receive treatment. He did not explain, however, how people who had not been convicted of any offence could justly be identified before being locked away.

It does not require much imagination to see how such a law, if ever enacted, could be extended to all kinds of people thought of potential danger to society - including, of course, those harbouring political ideas disliked by the government of the day.

Ray Fleming

Argentina's meltdown

Argentina's financial meltdown could have important consequences for the Spanish economy. Two of Spain's leading banks, Santander Central Hispano and BBVA, together control about 20 per cent of Argentina's banking system and each has been involved there in the recent attempts to alleviate the burden of public debt. Other companies, such as Telefonica, Repsol and Endesa are prominent in the sector of Argentina's public services which have been privatised in recent years. Endesa, which is Spain's largest utility, may be particularly exposed since it has invested heavily in Argentina's electricity network. Altogether Spanish investment in Argentina is thought to total around $30 billion - about ten per cent of Argentina's gross domestic product - about ten per cent of Argentina's gross domestic product. The Spanish government has been in close touch with the Argentinian authorities as the crisis has evolved, urging avoidance of devaluation even at the cost of default of the foreign debt which stands at $155 billion. The former prime minister, Felipe Gonzales, paid a hurried visit to Buenos Aires to represent Spanish interests and deliver a similar message. Behind the general preference for default rather than devaluation lies the fear of those inside and outside the country that any measure which would worsen the already desperate lot of many Argentinians could lead to very serious social unrest and even a collapse of the basic structure of government. The speech of interim President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa reflected these concerns; he announced a job creation programme to provide employment for one million people and new social programmes.

Monitor

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