Johnson pushes ahead with control orders despite criticism

Johnson: No higher priority than terrorism
Johnson: No higher priority than terrorism

By Ian Dunt

The government will push ahead with control orders despite damning judgments from the courts and hostile criticism from civil liberties campaigners.

The draft order to renew control orders was put before parliament today by Alan Johnson, home secretary. The government must renew the control order legislation each year.

The renewal comes on the same day as the annual report on the operation of control orders by Lord Carlile, independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

His analysis factored in the Lords' judgment in June of last year in which peers demanded more information on the allegations against the suspects held under the restrictions.

The Lords' judgement promoted many observers to predict the end of control orders, a view which was given added impetus by the decision of a high court judge to allow those affected by the control orders to claim compensation last month.

But Mr Johnson continued undeterred this morning.

"The government has no higher priority than protecting the public from terrorism," he said.

"Control orders remain an important tool to deal with a small number of suspected terrorists who cannot be prosecuted or deported.

"I believe the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 continues to strike the right balance between protecting the public and safeguarding the rights of the individual, which is why I am asking parliament to renew the Act."

Lord Carlile's report backed the counter-terrorism measure, which supporters defend as a method of granting the government enough power to monitor suspected terrorists without having to disclose the sensitive information against them.

"It is my view and advice that abandoning the control orders system entirely would have a damaging effect on national security," he wrote.

"There is no better means of dealing with the serious and continuing risk posed by some individuals.

"I have considered whether control orders can or should be replaced by something else, or even renamed. I have been unable to find, or devise, a suitable alternative for the important residue of cases that cannot be dealt with by prosecution."

But opponents of the scheme condemned the decision to renew the legislation.

"It is astonishing that the government remains so committed to control orders when they have taken such a beating in the courts," said Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne.

"It is an affront to British justice to curtail people's freedom and place them under de facto house arrest without even telling them why.

"The Tories have promised to vote against control orders before but have never shown enough political courage to do so.

"It is time they joined the Liberal Democrats in calling for this illiberal regime to be scrapped."

Amnesty International UK campaigns director Tim Hancock demanded the scheme be scrapped.

"It's hardly surprising that control orders have been the subject of expensive, drawn-out legal challenges. When people have their liberty restricted on the basis of secret intelligence, of course they are going to challenge this unfair decision in the courts.

"The fundamental problem with control orders - that they restrict people's liberty without giving them a fair trial - still remains. The government should stop battling to protect a Control Order regime that is fundamentally flawed. People should either be charged and given a fair trial, or the restrictions against them should be lifted."


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