Thursday, June 29, 2006

"The antithesis of liberty"

Human rights and the rule of law have won another victory in the UK, with a judge ruling that the Blair government's draconian system of "control orders" is equivalent to detention without trial, and is thus inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights. The orders in question had been applied to six suspected terrorists, and subjected them to virtual house arrest - an 18 hour a day curfew, restrictions on why they were allowed to meet or talk to, and no access to telephones or the internet. The only real difference between this and prison is that the victim gets to pay for it themselves - and it had all been imposed solely on the say-so of the Home Secretary, without any form of trial, and on secret "evidence" which cannot be effectively challenged by the victim.

Fortunately, the British courts are having none of it:

The judge said the restrictions were "the antithesis of liberty and equivalent to imprisonment".

"Their liberty to live a normal life within their residences is so curtailed as to be non-existent for all practical purposes," he said.

The Guardian also quotes him as saying

"The freedom to meet any person of one's choice by prior arrangement is significant. As is the freedom to attend any temple, mosque, church as whatever you choose." He went on: "I am left in no doubt whatsoever that the cumulative effect of the order has been to deprive to respondents of their liberty, in breach of article 5. I do not consider that this is a borderline case."

Blair and his latest Home Secretary have responded with the usual bluster, and are threatening to legislate to over-rule the courts, but in practice the only way they have of doing this would be to declare that the war on terror is a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation" and thereby opt out of the "fair trial" provisions of the ECHR for its duration. But if a thirty-year campaign from the IRA didn't qualify, its difficult to see how Al Qaeda will. Instead it will be hard not to conculde that the real threat to the life of the nation comes from Tony Blair's desire to cut England's laws flat.