Home secretary tries to renew control orders

By Ian Dunt

The home secretary has laid a draft order before parliament to renew control order legislation.

The controversial law, which has faced considerable criticism from civil liberties activists for possibly contravening the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), has received support from the government’s independent reviewer of control order legislation, Lord Carlile.

The reviewer said he would have “reached the same decision as the secretary of state in each case in which a control order has been made in 2008”.

The Home Office will now press ahead with renewing the legislation despite the outcry from civil liberties activists and some legal experts.

In 2006, the high court overturned six control orders for clashing with Article Five of the ECHR, which prohibits indefinite detention without trial.

Campaigners say the restrictions placed on people with control order – such as 18-hour curfews – mean their freedom is severely curtailed.

There are also objections to the law on the basis of Article Six of the ECHR, which guarantees the right to a fair trial.

The decision to impose a control order is made by the home secretary based on secret evidence which the individual concerned is unable to see.

But home secretary Jacqui Smith said the government was balancing its priorities.
“It is important that we strike the right balance between safeguarding society from the risk of terrorism and the preservation of the rights of the individual,” she said.

“I believe that the control order previsions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 strikes that balance, which is why I am asking parliament to renew the act.”

She also welcomed Lord Carlile’s report and pledge to assess some of his justifications.

Lord Carlile’s report accepts the necessity of control orders, but voices some discomfort with the absence of a trial by jury.

“The control order system as operated currently is a justifiable and proportional safety valve for the proper protection of civil society, but prosecution and conviction by a jury of criminal offences is a far more wholesome and satisfactory way of dealing with suspected terrorists,” it reads.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: “Another year has gone by and there has still been no improvement to this system which even the last home secretary admitted was ‘full of holes’.

“For some people, these measures simply aren’t doing the job, while for others, they violate the basic legal principle that we are innocent until proven guilty.”

In 2007, the House of Lords objected to three control order cases on the basis that an 18 hour curfew was excessive. It accepted, however, that 12- or 14- hour curfews are acceptable.