TERROR CHAOS AS TOP LAWYER QUITS; Secret Courts' Special Advocate Says 'Conscience' Made Him Quit - If Others Follow the Whole System Will Be Derailed

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Byline: GLEN OWEN

THE Government's anti-terror laws faced collapse last night after a leading QC appointed by Ministers to defend terrorist suspects quit in disgust.

Ian Macdonald has told The Mail on Sunday that the law allowing suspects to be held indefinitely without trial is 'an odious blot on our legal landscape'. He said: 'For reasons of conscience, I feel that I must resign.'

Mr Macdonald has served for seven years with the secret court which hears the alleged terrorists' cases.

Under laws rushed through in 2001 after the September 11 attacks on America, suspects are not allowed to hear or contest any of the evidence against them. Instead, their case is argued by Special Advocates such as Mr Macdonald, who has top-level security clearance and is sworn never to reveal the details of the allegations against his clients.

His shock resignation - revealed exclusively to this newspaper - will rock Downing Street and increase pressure on new Home Secretary Charles Clarke to abandon the 'no-trial' legislation.

It comes days after Law Lords ruled that being jailed without trial was a fundamental breach of the detainees' human rights and described the policy as a 'threat to the life of the nation'.

Although the Government seems intent on disregarding the Law Lords, who cannot strike down the policy, the resignation of Mr Macdonald as a Special Advocate could now derail the entire operation of the secret courts.

He and 14 other Special Advocates are the only representation the terror suspects have.

If, as expected, others follow his lead, the court - officially known as the Special Immigration Appeal Commission - would be unable to function.

Writing exclusively for today's Mail on Sunday, Mr Macdonald says that although he had fears about the anti-terror law from the moment it was passed, he now feels that he is being used to give a fig-leaf of respectability to 'intolerable' legislation.

'Such a law is an odious blot on our legal landscape and for reasons of conscience I feel that I must resign,' he says.

'It is a disproportionate and discriminatory response to the threat to the nation. [It is] fundamentally flawed and contrary to our deepest notions of justice.' Mr Macdonald said that when the terror laws were brought in after September 11, he decided to act as a Special Advocate because 'I thought I might be able to make a difference'.

But he now says he knows that this was a forlorn hope.

He says: 'My role has been altered to provide a false legitimacy to indefinite detention without knowledge of the accusations being made and without any kind of criminal charge or trial. …