High Court to rule on civil liberties controversy

By staff writers
July 21, 2009

Civil liberties campaigners are today awaiting a High Court ruling on the use of control orders. The court is expected to rule on the cases of two individuals who are subject to the orders, key aspects of which were last month declared to be illegal by the law lords.

The cases involve two individuals known as 'AN' and 'AF'. Although the law lords ruled against the use of indefinite punishment on the basis of secret evidence, the government has recently renewed AN's control order without disclosing details of the allegations involved.

The High Court is now examining the two cases in the light of the law lords' judgment.

Control orders can be imposed indefinitely on people accused of terrorism who have not been convicted of any crime, or even charged with one. They severely restrict the subject's movement and contact with others and often include electronic tagging, lengthy curfews and bans on internet access.

The human rights group Liberty is calling for control orders to be abolished, arguing that they fail both to control genuinely dangerous people and to protect innocent suspects.

“As stupid as they are cruel, control orders are the worst hangover from Britain’s War on Terror” said Liberty's director Shami Chakrabarti yesterday.

She insisted that “No real terrorist is ever going to comply with house arrest and a large number of suspects have disappeared. But an innocent person can be subject to indefinite and severe punishment without ever having been charged or brought to trial.”

Opponents of control orders have been encouraged by a number of recent court decisions. The law lord James Hope declared last month that “a denunciation on grounds that are not disclosed is the stuff of nightmares”.

He argued that “The fundamental principle is that everyone is entitled to the disclosure of sufficient material to enable him to answer effectively the case that is made against him.”

Liberty suggest that alternative methods would be more effective in tackling terrorism. They are calling for phonetap evidence to be permitted in court to allow more trials of suspected terrorists to proceed in a fair way, convicting the guilty and not punishing the innocent.

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