Human rights ‘key weapon’ in tackling terrorism

Human rights laws have “unquestionably” limited the government’s attempts to tackle terrorism – but that is a good thing, the lord chief justice has argued.

Lord Phillips said fighting terrorism was not just a question of reacting to the actions of suspected terrorists, but about tackling the ideology that caused them to act in this way.

And in a keynote speech last night, he said respect for human rights, and therefore the upholding of the Human Rights Act, was a “key weapon” in this fight.

The act has attracted considerable controversy since its introduction in 1998, not least in recent years as judges appeared to clash with the government over how it affected their proposed counter-terrorism measures.

Ministers were forced to abandon laws allowing the indefinite detention of terror suspects without trial after the law lords ruled it breached the suspects’ human rights, and also had to modify the restrictions placed on people under the control orders programme.

“The Human Rights Act has unquestionably circumscribed both the legislative and the executive action that would otherwise have been the response to the outbreak of global terrorism that we have seen over the last decade,” Lord Phillips said.

But he said that the system of checks on this executive power was a “satisfactory state of affairs”, and argued: “Respect for human rights must, I suggest, be a key weapon in the ideological battle.”

He added that since the second world war, Britain had welcomed millions of immigrants from all over the globe, many of them refugees from countries where human rights were not respected.

“It is essential that they, and their children and grandchildren, should be confident that their adopted country treats them without discrimination and with due respect for their human rights,” Lord Phillips said.

“If they feel that they are not being fairly treated, their consequent resentment will inevitably result in the growth of those who, actively or passively, are prepared to support the terrorists who are bent on destroying the fabric of our society.

“The Human Rights Act is not merely their safeguard, it is a vital part of the foundation of our fight against terrorism.”

Liberal Democrat president Simon Hughes welcomed the peer’s comments, saying: “Unless we stick to a gold standard of human rights in this country we are not in a position to set a standard for other less democratic countries to follow.

“Unless everybody living within Britain’s boundaries believes that the law will be fair to them and will only take away their liberty after due process then we will be storing up trouble for the future.”