THE Government is proposing to dismantle one of the most cherished principles of the British justice system by planning to detain terror suspects without trial.

We do not for one moment underestimate the difficulties of the security problem facing ministers and - with existing powers to detain terror suspects without trial due to run out on March 14 - time is of the essence.

We also appreciate that the Government faces a no-win situation: being accused of violating human rights through its controversial detention proposals on the one hand, yet guaranteed to be questioned over the effectiveness of its security measures should a terrorist atrocity hit Britain on the other.

But the proposal on the table represents a truly momentous step which warrants the most careful scrutiny and debate. And it is hard not to draw the conclusion that such an important change in the way we run society is at risk of being made with indecent haste.

MPs will get only two days to debate the Prevention of Terrorism Bill before it goes to the House of Lords and that is simply not enough.

It is through the process of consultation and debate that the Government has already reassessed its position to some extent by allowing judges quickly to review control orders imposed by the Home Secretary.

But we still believe that there is more ground to cover and that the initial decision to deny someone's liberty has to be taken through the courts and not by politicians.