Thursday, April 13, 2006

"An affront to justice"

When the British government introduced its system of "control orders" allowing terrorist suspects to be subject to house arrest, civil libertarians criticised them on the basis that they simply replicated all the most obnoxious features of the arbitrary detention regime they had replaced. The decisions would be made by a government Minister, rather than a judge, and on the basis of secret "evidence" which would not be scrutinised by any independent tribunal. This was fundamentally unfair, and incompatible with basic human rights standards dating back to Magna Carta

It seems the British judiciary agrees. A British judge conducting the first judicial review of a control order has called the entire system "an affront to justice" and ruled that it breaches human rights laws. The Independent has some particularly scathing quotes:

"The thin veneer of legality which is sought to be applied by section 3 of the Act cannot disguise the reality that controlees' rights under the Convention are being determined not by an independent court in compliance with Article 6.1 but by executive decision-making untrammelled by any prospective of effective judicial supervision," he added.

In a damning verdict on the Government's anti-terror policy Mr Justice Sullivan added: "The court would be failing in its duty under the Human Rights Act if it did not say, loud and clear that the procedure under the Act whereby the court merely reviews the lawfulness of the Secretary of State's decision to make the order upon the basis of the material available to him at that early stage are conspicuously unfair."

He said: "To say the Act does not give the respondent in this case 'a fair hearing' in the determination of his rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights would be an understatement."

Unfortunately, the law has been drafted so as to prevent the courts from overturning the Minister's decision, so despite all this, the control order remains in place. Which I think rather proves Justice Sullivan's point: control orders are an affront to justice, and a recipe for Ministerial abuse.