Another blow to the discredited control order regime

Written by Andy Worthington Wednesday, 28 July 2010
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A Court of Appeal ruling deals another blow to the discredited control order regime. It's time to scrap it.

For the Guardian’s Comment is free, “Ruling sends message on control orders” is an article I wrote following a Court of Appeal ruling that two former control order detainees -- AE, an Iraqi national and an imam in the north of England, and AF, a dual British/Libyan national, who was born in Derby -- are entitled to compensation for the three years that they were held on control orders, a form of house arrest to which British nationals and foreign nationals are subjected, on the basis of secret evidence.
 
As I explain in the article, former home secretary Alan Johnson revoked the men’s control orders last autumn, preferring to set them free rather than providing them with information about why they were being held. This followed a significant ruling last June, when the Law Lords ruled that control orders breached Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial, because a suspect held under a control order is not given “sufficient information about the allegations against him to enable him to give effective instructions to the special advocate assigned to him” (absurdly, in the court sessions where secret evidence is discussed, the men are represented by special advocates who are prohibited from discussing anything with their clients that takes place in these sessions).
 
Today’s ruling in the Court of Appeal follows a High Court ruling in January, when Lord Justice Silber ordered the men’s control orders to be quashed rather than revoked, which meant, essentially, that they had been wrongly imposed, and that the men would be able to claim compensation.
 
As I mention in the article, the Court’s decision will no doubt provoke a tabloid backlash, but the truth is that the control order regime itself is rotten, and needs scrapping immediately, to be replaced by trials that, if necessary, involve the use of intercept evidence. Moreover, as the Liberal Democrats voted en masse to oppose the renewal of control orders in March this year, the pressure is now on them to urge their Conservative colleagues to implement these much-needed changes.

Civil libertarians will be watching developments closely -- and also hoping for a demonstration that the Liberal Democrats have not been entirely sidelined in the coalition government. It is time for Nick Clegg to act.

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