June 28, 2006

Court quashes Britain’s anti-terrorism orders

By Peter Graff

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's High Court ruled on Wednesday
that "control orders" confining six terrorism suspects to
partial house arrest breached their human rights, throwing out
a key plank of Prime Minister Tony Blair's security policy.

Under the orders, terrorism suspects who have not been
charged with a crime have been electronically tagged, confined
to their houses for most of the day and banned from using
computers and phones or meeting people without permission.

"The six control orders are incompatible with the
respondents' right to liberty under article 5 of the European
Convention on Human Rights," said Justice Jeremy Sullivan.

"It follows that the Secretary of State had no power to
make the orders and they must therefore all be quashed."

Blair rushed the new powers through parliament last year
after courts rejected post-September 11, 2001 emergency
measures that had allowed police to confine foreign suspected
terrorists to high security prison indefinitely without trial.

The control orders apply to British citizens as well as
foreign nationals and do not allow them to be jailed, but
provide for a host of severe restrictions amounting to
effective house arrest.

The new measures caused an uproar in parliament, where they
triggered debate over the degree to which ancient and
fundamental rights should be suspended to combat terrorism.

Blair has repeatedly criticized judges for placing too much
emphasis on the rights of suspects and says the system needs to
be rebalanced in favor of protecting the public.

The judge said government lawyers are to appeal the case at
a hearing now scheduled for Monday. The six men, who have not
been named, will remain subject to the restrictions until the
appeal is heard.

Under the European Convention, a country may not deprive
people of their liberty without trial unless the country first
declares an emergency and "derogates" from the convention,
ordering the suspension of basic rights.

Blair's 2005 law would allow the government to derogate
from the convention in an emergency, but the government has not
declared one, arguing that its partial house arrest powers do
not amount to depriving suspects of their liberty.

Lawyer Natalia Garcia, who represents two of the six
suspects, said the judge's ruling showed that the government
had attempted "derogation by sleight of hand."

"What they have done is to impose conditions of such
draconian severity as to be a deprivation of liberty."

"It is heartening that courts will still act as a check
against the government when it seeks to ride roughshod over
basic human rights and civil liberties," she said.

Britain's Home Office, which oversees the system, said it
was preparing a public statement in response to the ruling.