Judge quashes anti-terror orders
From BBC Online
A key plank of the government’s anti-terrorism laws has been dealt a blow by the High Court. A senior judge said control orders made against six men break European human rights laws. Ministers say they will appeal against the ruling.
The orders are imposed on people suspected of terrorism but where there is not enough evidence to go to court. They mean suspects can be tagged, confined to their homes, and banned from communicating with others.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Sullivan said control orders were incompatible with Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which outlaws indefinite detention without trial.
The home secretary had no power to make the orders and they must therefore all be quashed, he said.
Under the control orders restrictions, the suspects have to stay indoors for 18 hours a day, between 4pm and 10am and are not allowed to use mobile phones or the internet. And there are limits on who they can meet.
The judge said the restrictions were “the antithesis of liberty and equivalent to imprisonment”.
“Their liberty to live a normal life within their residences is so curtailed as to be non-existent for all practical purposes,” he said.
In April, the same judge ruled against the Act under which control orders are made, saying that those subjected to them had not received a fair hearing.
The government can get the UK an opt-out from parts of the European Convention of Human Rights if there is a national emergency – but this is something ministers have wanted to avoid.
But Natalia Garcia, who represented two of the controlees, said: “It is heartening that the courts will still act as a check against the government when it seeks to ride roughshod over the basic human rights and civil liberties such as the fundamental right to liberty.
“The human cost to my clients of being subject to control orders is incalculable.”
Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said the government would try to overturn the ruling in the Court of Appeal.
“We think in the balance between public safety and the right to liberty and security for the individual, the public safety outweighs the individual,” he said.
The appeal hearings are expected next Monday. Until the, the six controlees, thought to be a Briton and five Iraqis, will remain subject to the restrictions.
Laws under review
Tony Blair’s official spokesman said Parliament had debated control orders at length and had expected the issue to go through the courts too.
The government was already reviewing the way the courts interpreted the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European convention into British law.
The government’s terror law adviser, Lord Carlile, said he was “not at all surprised” the judge had ruled that the orders were too stringent. If the Court of Appeal also said the orders should be quashed, he expected the government would make the restrictions on the suspects less severe.
For the Conservatives, shadow home secretary David Davis said the government had ignored his warnings that this could happen. He said he had offered ministers the option of extending previous terrorism detention measures to give them time to think.
Liberal Democrat spokesman Nick Clegg said: “This decision shows the dangers of rushed and ill thought-out legislation on such an important issue.”
Control orders were only introduced after the law lords said the previous regime of detaining terrorism suspects without trial was unlawful. They were originally imposed on most of the men who were held without charge at London’s Belmarsh prison.
Two of the Belmarsh detainees were returned to Algeria this month after giving up their appeals against deportation. Others have been taken off control orders and arrested under deportation rules.
Lord Carlile says he has “real concern” about detaining such people who cannot in practice be deported at the moment.