Clarke ends terror suspects' detention without trial

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Detention of terror suspects without trial will be replaced with a system of "control orders", Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced today.

The Home Secretary Charles Clarke is to introduce "control orders" to curb the activities of suspected terrorists who, for various reasons, cannot be prosecuted, he told MPs.

This would replace detention powers under the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act, 2001, which the Law Lords had ruled were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

He conceded that his plan would be "contentious" in that the new scheme would not include detention in prison, but would include a range of controls restricting movement and association, curfews and/or tagging and in some cases a requirement to remain at their premises.

But Mr Clarke said that he would not be revoking the detention certificates on the current detainees under Part 4 of the Act until the new legislation was in place.

Twelve men are held under those powers, introduced after the September 11 attacks.

He said he accepted the Law Lords' decision and had therefore decided to replace these powers with a new system of control orders, which would apply to both British and foreign nationals.

But he stressed: "I am left in no doubt that nothing has happened recently which diminishes the threat or calls into question the state of public emergency threatening the life of the nation."

Mr Clarke said the Law Lords had considered that the Part 4 powers were discriminatory in that they applied only to foreign nationals and that, as a response to the threat faced from terrorism, they were not proportionate.

However he said that these powers had played an essential part in addressing the public emergency because they had contained the threat posed by those certified and detained under them.

"The existence and use of these powers has helped to make the UK a far more hostile environment for international terrorists to operate in - with the result that some have been deterred from coming here and others have left to avoid being certified and detained.

"I am pleased about this. The UK must never be regarded as a soft touch or a safe haven for terrorists."

Mr Clarke said the terrorist threat had advanced since the Act was enacted in 2001. "It is clear that some British nationals are now playing a more significant role in these threats. At the same time, networks consisting of foreign nationals with international links remain."

But he said the answer lay in a twin track approach: deportation with assurances, for foreign nationals, and a new mechanism, control orders, to contain and disrupt people who could not be prosecuted or deported.

Mr Clarke said that discussions with a number of key Middle Eastern and North African countries were taking place on the deportation issue.

"Prosecution is and will remain our preferred way forward when dealing with all terrorists, and all agencies do and will continue to operate on this basis. But all of us need to recognise that it isn't always possible to bring charges given the need to protect highly sensitive sources and techniques."