Control orders under fire as govt seeks renewal

By Ian Dunt

Civil libertarians are putting up a concerted effort to stop the government renewing its control order legislation today in parliament.

The vote comes on a day of increased concentration on civil liberties, with opposition to a clause in the coroners and justice bill granting government unprecedented access to individuals’ medical records dominating parliament and a poll showing substantial resentment at government attacks on British freedoms.

The powers – found in the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (PTA) – are up for their annual review following severe criticism from legal and security experts.

“Four years after the control order regime was introduced, supposedly as a temporary measure, there is no sign of it going away,” said Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen.

“We need a comprehensive rethink of the system and a full review of all the alternatives.”

PTA was introduced after the House of Lords ruled that existing powers to detain foreign nationals suspected of terrorism were disproportionate and discriminatory, as well as being in breach of European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Human Rights Act (HRA).

But activists argue that the secretive nature of the control order process – the individual in question is not allowed to see the evidence against him – leaves the public unable to effectively challenge the orders.

The ‘special advocates’ appointed to ‘represent the interests’ of the individual are roundly condemned by legal experts and civil liberties advocates because they cannot take instructions from the person they are supposed to represent.

“Control orders constitute permanent punishment without trial and one of the worst legacies of the war on terror,” said Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti.

“The innocent can be placed under permanent house arrest on the basis of secret intelligence, possibly flowing from torture – the guilty may easily remove their plastic tags, disappear and do their worst.

“Any MP who believes in fair trials and regaining Britain’s moral authority must vote against renewing this cruel and self-defeating nonsense today.”

The concerns over control orders go to the heart of the British legal system, with opponents saying they offer the government the power to impose a form of detention on UK and foreign nationals for an indefinite period of time, effectively imposing on them a criminal punishment without charge or trial, on the basis of secret intelligence that is never disclosed to them.

Last week, a report by parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), concluded: “We continue to have very serious concerns about the human rights compatibility of both the control orders regime itself and its operation in practice.

“We remain concerned that it will continue to result in breaches of both the right to liberty and the right to a fair hearing. Moreover, with every annual renewal, we grow more concerned about the length of time for which a number of individuals have been the subject of control orders.”

The Liberal Democrats have promised to vote against renewal.

“The Liberal Democrats will vote against the continuation of control orders as we have in the past,” Chris Huhne, Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, confirmed.
But the vote is still expected to go the government’s way.

“Control orders are an affront to human rights and the rule of law,” Ms Allen continued.

“If there is evidence that someone has committed a crime, they should be charged with a criminal offence and put on trial, not locked in their home on the basis of secret intelligence.

“Of course the government must protect the public from the threat of terrorist attacks. But its response to this threat has been to strip people of their most basic rights.”

Both the JCHR and Lord Carlile, the government’s independent reviewer of counter-terrorism policy, have raised serious concerns about the length of time that some people have been subjected to the orders.