UK terrorism expert criticizes European court rulings on control orders

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[JURIST] The UK government’s independent reviewer of terror laws on Thursday published a report [text, PDF] saying that rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] made it difficult to remove foreign terror suspects from Britain. Control orders [Guardian backgrounder; JURIST news archive], created by the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2005 (PTA) [text], are available to authorities when a terror suspect resists deportation for fear that he or she will be ill-treated in his or her home country. The ECHR refused to grant the Government’s request that a terror suspect be required to show that it is more likely than not that he would be subject to ill-treatment. The ruling lowered the suspect’s burden of proving that he would be faced with ill-treatment upon returning to his home country. The reviewer of the sixth annual report, Lord Carlile of Berriew [Times profile; JURIST news archive], concluded that, despite political controversy and court decisions that challenged the system’s goals, the control order system functioned well in 2010:

[I]t is my view and advice that abandoning the control orders system now would have a damaging effect on national security. Of course, on their own control orders are not a failsafe or foolproof mechanism for full disruption of suspected terrorists. Further, because they are a resource-intensive tool for all involved in their management, self-evidently they cannot be used to manage the risk posed by all non-prosecutable suspected terrorists against whom there is robust intelligence.

Carlile also called for a formal system for briefing political leaders to inform the debate on a possible replacement for the control order system.

In January, UK Home Secretary Theresa May [official profile] announced proposed changes [press release; JURIST report] to the Britain’s anti-terrorism policies, including the controversial use of control orders. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] issued a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] in August calling for an end to the use of control orders against terrorism suspects, characterizing the orders as legal sanctions without trial. A month prior, the UK Court of Appeal [official website] ruled [judgment, text; JURIST report] that two terrorism suspects could sue the government for damages over wrongfully imposed control orders. In June, the UK Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that a control order requiring an anonymous appellant to live 150 miles from his family and operate under a 16-hour curfew violated his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) [text]. In September 2009, then-Home Secretary Alan Johnson [BBC profile] said the government would undertake a review [JURIST report] of the system. The UK Law Lords ruled in October 2007 that the government may continue to impose control orders [JURIST report] on terror suspects in lieu of detention, but said that some elements of the orders violate human rights. Control orders allow the British government to conduct surveillance and impose house arrest on suspects where there does not exist enough evidence to prosecute. The orders can also be used to forbid the use of mobile phones and the Internet.

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