Human Rights Victory for 20 Terror Suspects; Law Lords Rule That Control Orders Are Illegal

Daily Mail (London), June 11, 2009 | Go to article overview

Human Rights Victory for 20 Terror Suspects; Law Lords Rule That Control Orders Are Illegal


Byline: James Slack Home Affairs Editor

THE system of control orders for dangerous terror suspects was left in tatters yesterday by a devastating human rights judgment.

The ruling by the Law Lords could lead to all 20 people under 'house arrest' being allowed free.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson, facing his first headache in his new post, called the decision 'extremely disappointing'.

The verdict centres on the use of secret evidence in the court cases used to decide whether a control order can be imposed.

Suspects have no right even to know what they are being accused of. A 'special advocate' acting on their behalf can see the evidence, but cannot tell them about it.

Yesterday, nine law lords unanimously agreed this system - dubbed 'Kafkaesque' by critics - was unfair.

They ordered that test cases brought by three suspects, who cannot be named, should be heard again. The ruling opens the door to all 20 control order suspects going back to court. Under the control order system, suspects are restricted by home curfews, electronic tagging and bans on whom they can meet and where they can go.

The Home Office uses the orders against suspects who cannot be prosecuted because revealing evidence against them could compromise the work of the security services - revealing how they obtained it and what they do and do not know about fanatics in the UK.

Mr Johnson must decide whether letting the orders lapse is more dangerous than making the evidence public. The only alternative would be round-the-clock surveillance - at a cost of [pounds sterling]250,000 or more a year in each case.

The senior Law Lord on the case, former Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips, said: 'A trial procedure can never be considered fair if a party to it is kept in ignorance of the case against him.'

Lord Hope of Craighead said: 'If the rule of law is to mean anything, it is in cases such as these that the court must stand by principle.' But Lord Hoffman made a scathing attack on the European Court of Human Rights, which paved the way for yesterday's decision by ruling that a trial is never fair if it is based 'solely or to a decisive degree' on closed material.

He said he had no option but to agree with his fellow law lords, but added: 'I do so with very considerable regret, because I think that the ECHR was wrong. …

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