Calls for reform of terror control orders after ruling; Use of secret evidence a breach of human rights, say Law Lords.
CIVIL liberties groups called on the Government to reform its controversial control orders system yesterday after three terror suspects held under virtual house arrest won their appeals at the House of Lords.
A panel of nine Law Lords who preside over the highest court in the land ruled the use of secret evidence at control order hearings did not amount to a fair trial and contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.
They ordered the cases should be heard again.
Amnesty International said: "This is a welcome victory for justice. The Law Lords have rightfully found that the control order regime in which the accused cannot see, challenge or effectively defend themselves against the evidence is unfair and a violation of human rights.
"The Home Secretary should pay close attention to this decision and scrap the control orders regime." Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "I can think of no better way for the Prime Minister to make a fresh start for his Government than to abandon the cruel and counter-productive punishments without trial instituted by his predecessor. If protecting the public is the top priority then control orders do not achieve it.
"Dangerous terrorists should not be in their living rooms but convicted and imprisoned. Innocent people should not be subjected to years and years of community punishment without trial.
"Control orders are the worst of both worlds and the new Home Secretary should take this opportunity to learn from the mistakes of his predecessor." Home Secretary Alan Johnson called the judgement "extremely disappointing".
He said: "Protecting the public is my top priority and this judgement makes that task harder.
"Nevertheless, the Government will continue to take all steps we can to manage the threat presented by terrorism.
"All control orders will remain in force for the time being and we will continue to seek to uphold them in the courts. In the meantime, we will consider this judgement and our options carefully." Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: "This is further evidence of the Government's failure to create a proper regime to control dangerous terror suspects in the UK. They have set up a system which just isn't working properly and is in urgent need of review." The Government introduced control orders in 2005 after the Law Lords ruled that the previous policy of detaining foreign terror suspects without trial or charge was incompatible with human rights.
Yesterday's ruling was the second time that the highest court in the land has scrutinised control orders. In October 2007, the Law Lords ruled that the most draconian power under the control order regime - an 18-hour home curfew - was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
They said a 12-hour curfew was acceptable, but Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary at the time, announced that she was looking at introducing 16-hour curfews instead.
In the second appeal, the terror suspects, who are subject to the new controls, challenged a ruling in the Court of Appeal last October when two of the three judges said terror suspects can be subjected to control orders even though they know nothing about the evidence against them.
Lord Pannick QC, who represented the first of the men, identified only as AF, argued during the hearing that began in March that it was procedurally unfair to order him to stay in his flat on the outskirts of Manchester for up to 16 hours a day. AF, who was born in 1981 in Derby and has dual Libyan and British nationality, cannot see anyone without permission or use the internet.
The second suspect, AN, is a British citizen born in Derby in 1981 who moved with his wife to Syria where he was arrested and deported to the UK in March 2007.
AE is an Iraqi national who came to the UK in January 2002 and claimed political asylum.
Lord Phillips said 38 individuals had been subjected to control orders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act..