Amended house arrest orders 'may still breach human rights laws'

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The Independent Online

The Government's revised plans to allow judges to impose controversial house arrest "control orders" on terror suspects may still breach human rights laws, MPs and peers warned today.

The all-party Joint Committee on Human Rights said Home Secretary Charles Clarke's changes to his new terror Bill may not go far enough.

Mr Clarke on Monday backed down over proposals which would allow him to impose the orders on a suspect, instead of allowing judges to make the initial decision.

But the committee said today: "We ... question whether the degree of prior judicial involvement provided for in the Government's amendments in relation to derogating control orders is compatible with the Convention requirement that deprivations of liberty must be lawful."

It was the committee's second report in a week on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, which is being rushed through Parliament by the Government.

The Parliamentarians expressed "regret" that the Bill's rapid progress had made it impossible for them to scrutinise the legislation's human rights' compatibility in time to inform debate.

Changes to the control orders' measures proposed by Mr Clarke will see the Home Secretary be able to apply to a judge without notifying the suspect, who will not be entitled to be represented at court.

The members said they could "see no reason" why the suspect could not be allowed to be represented at the initial stage, because there will be new powers to detain them while the procedure takes place.

The committee also raised concerns about the way lower level control orders will be imposed on the say-so of the Home Secretary.

The members said the "unprecedented scope" of the powers and the "potentially drastic" effect on human rights warranted a greater degree of judicial control.

"We regret ... that having now accepted the principle of prior judicial authorisation in relation to derogating control orders, the Government does not accept that the procedure for non-derogating control orders should be the same."

They went on: "In our view, prior judicial involvement is therefore required in order for there to be an independent safeguard against arbitrary deprivations of liberty through the exercise of the power to make non-derogating control orders."

However, the MPs and peers welcomed the "considerable progress" that the Government's amendments had made in involving judges in the decisions.