Johnson demands control orders review

By Alex Stevenson and Liz Stephens

Alan Johnson has ordered a review of control orders, but maintained the government’s support for the controversial system.

The home secretary made the announcement in a written ministerial statement to parliament.

He said national security reasons for changing the system had not changed, despite the law lords ruling earlier this year that control orders – used to limit terror suspects’ freedom without actually detaining them – are illegal.

However, the Home Office played down the reports of a wholesale review, telling that the home secretary had only “asked for a second opinion”.

There are 15 imposed on terror suspects at present, nine of which are on British citizens. The government had pledged to fight each case on their own merits but last week was forced to concede that in one case, that of a Libyan national known as AF, they would rather release the suspect than reveal intelligence to courts.

Mr Johnson said he had asked Lord Carlile of Berriew to “review the impact of the House of Lords judgment and to advise me as to whether the assessment that the regime remains viable is right”.

His findings will be published early next year. The high court’s consideration of further control order cases in the coming months will ‘inform’ the review, Mr Johnson added.

The law lords ruled that control orders may only be continued where defendants are told enough about the case against them to give them effective instructions to their legal representatives.

However, a Home Office spokesperson told that the law lords ruling was a test case and each case would still have to be assessed on its own merits.

“The House of Lords ruling is not the kiss of death,” the spokesperson said.

In his statement, Mr Johnson said: “As the government has made clear on numerous occasions, when dealing with suspected terrorists prosecution is – and will continue to be – our preferred approach.

“Where we cannot prosecute, and the individual concerned is a foreign national, we look to detain and then deport them. For those we cannot either prosecute or deport, our assessment has been that control orders are the best available disruptive tool for managing the risk they pose.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs secretary Chris Huhne said: “The Government’s discredited and illiberal control orders scheme has been dealt so many blows by the courts that even the Home Secretary has realised the game is up.

“Control orders undermine British justice. It is simply unacceptable to restrict people’s liberty without telling them why.”

Civil liberties campaigners at Liberty said they were bitterly disappointed by Mr Johnson’s statement.

“It is very sad that the new home secretary is unprepared to correct the tragic mistakes of his predecessors,” director Shami Chakrabarti said.