Friday, January 07, 2011

Why control orders must go

The UK government is currently considering whether to repeal the current system of control orders, which allows suspected terrorists to be subjected to house arrest, electronic monitoring and travel restrictions on the basis of secret "evidence". Meanwhile, the Independent has a perfect example of why the regime must be repealed, in the person of Cerie Bullivant:

Mr Bullivant, a Muslim convert, was required to wear an electronic tag, observe a curfew, report daily to police and to expect his home to be raided at any time.

The regime forced him to drop out of college, made it impossible for him to find a job, caused the collapse of his marriage and led to him being shunned by friends and family.

He said he still faces abuse and suspicion to this day – despite having his control order quashed by the High Court almost three years ago.

All of this happened because he was friends with someone whose brother was convicted of terrorism. In other words, guilt by (distant) association. Because the "evidence" was secret, it could not be effectively challenged; in the end he had to abscond from the control order and be prosecuted for it in order to force the government to show their hand and reveal that they had ruined his life for nothing.

It is fundamental to any fair society that the state should not engage in arbitrary punishment or restrictions on freedom. But that is what control orders do. And they encourage lazy policing. Rather than gather evidence to actually prosecute and convict someone suspected of terrorism, the police can just stick the person on a control order. But the lack of procedural safeguards means that the innocent get punished along with the guilty. And that in turn provides exactly the sort of injustice which encourages acts of terrorism.