Terror suspect deportation row exploited by human rights critics

By staff writers
19 May 2010

Human rights advocates have welcomed the decision yesterday by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) that two men allegedly involved in a terror plot could not be deported to Pakistan.

Mr Justice Mitting said that they could not be returned as Pakistan had "a long... history of disappearances, illegal detention and of the torture and ill-treatment of those detained".

The tabloid and conservative media in Britain has reacted with rage at the decision, alleging that European human rights legislation is endangering the British public.

Legal and human rights experts say that this is blatantly untrue, and that it is only right that the country upholds the freedoms it claims to be protecting.

The case is already being used by those who want to see the repeal of the Human Rights Act - which had become Tory policy. Now, however, leading Conservatives are backing away from this stance, and the coalition government is talking only about a review of "existing measures and obligations."

Although the new Home Secretary, Theresa May, has declined to appeal the SIAC ruling, the judgment and the continued existence of the inherited 'control order policy' poses the first test to a new coalition that has so far wrapped itself in the language of civil liberties, says leading NGO Liberty.

Liberty's director, Shami Chakrabarti, formerly a barrister, has rigorously defended the SIAC decision on television interviews and in an article in today's Times newspaper (18 May 2010).

She says that the solution is straightforward: put the men on trial and jail them if they are found guilty by a jury. If they are not found guilty but there is evidence that they pose a threat, monitor them closely.

The existing control order regime, put on the statute book in 2005, was originally opposed by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. However, the Liberal Democrats have in recent years consistently opposed the annual renewal of control orders in Parliament, while the Conservatives have consistently abstained from the parliamentary vote.

Ms Chakrabarti continued: "Terror suspects should face fair trials, not secret commissions. Convicted terrorists should be sent to secure prisons, not put on planes to face torture or make more trouble elsewhere."

She added: "Anyone who thinks that sending people to torture is a good idea has learned nothing from 'extraordinary rendition' and the counter-productive war on terror."

Liberty has long criticised the failure of control orders both as a method of controlling genuinely dangerous people and protecting innocent suspects.

The human rights group urges the new coalition Government to move policy away from the war on terror and towards the rule of law.

Control orders were brought in by the Government under the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act after the Law Lords ruled that indefinite detention without charge for foreign terror suspects in Belmarsh prison violated their human rights.

The orders (applicable to British and non-nationals alike) severely restrict who a person can meet, where they can go and all cases have involved electronic tagging.

Restrictions have included lengthy curfews and bans on unauthorised visitors and internet access. Control orders can last indefinitely. The person does not have to be accused of any crime and does not have to be given the evidence against them.

The use of such orders has been defended by Lord Carlile, a Liberal Democrat peer appointed as an independent scrutineer of terror legislation in Britain. He claims privilege for his views because he sees secret papers on particular cases.

But critics say that he has been weak in defending human rights on the control order issue, and too much in the pocket of the government.

He is also at variance with his own party's official policy, and some allege that he has leant on the Liberal Democrats to water down their stance.

[Ekk/3]

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