Court challenge to UK anti-terror laws

Click to follow

Draconian anti-terrorism laws introduced in the wake of the 11 September atrocities will be challenged this week at a public tribunal eight months after they were used to imprison 11 alleged "terrorist suspects" without trial.

Draconian anti-terrorism laws introduced in the wake of the 11 September atrocities will be challenged this week at a public tribunal eight months after they were used to imprison 11 alleged "terrorist suspects" without trial.

Liberty, the civil liberties pressure group, backed by human rights experts, hopes that a hearing beginning on Wednesday, by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, will find in its favour.

Success would mean that the central part of David Blunkett's Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act would fall through, and that the nine men in detention at Belmarsh high-security prison in London could be quickly released.

Within days of the powers being rushed through in December 2001, the Security Service (MI5) and the police seized 11 foreign nationals living in Britain. They were imprisoned after the Government opted out from the protection against detention without charge or trial rule under the European Convention on Human Rights, but two have since been released.

John Wadham of Liberty said: "Arrests under these powers stamp all over basic principles of British justice and the European Convention of Human Rights – even the Government admits that. We pride ourselves on our traditions of fairness and justice. By locking people up without clear evidence or access to a proper trial, the Government has violated those traditions."

The detainees are being held in a separate block at Belmarsh, with several still in solitary confinement. They are locked in their cells for 22 hours a day, and given brief periods of exercise in a small yard.

Gareth Peirce, the lawyer for several of the men, said the hearing, which will be heard mostly in secret, will be told that ministers had failed to justify any of its reasons for detaining the men without trial.

Their lawyers would challenge claims that Britain was facing an exceptional national emergency, that the derogation from the EHCR was legal, and that the detention was justified and proportionate. None of the 11 had yet been told of the allegations against them, she added. "All the so-called evidence is being heard in private without the detainees, their lawyers or the general public knowing what the charges are," she said.

The hearing this week will be a precursor to a High Court challenge against the detention of seven British prisoners who have been held without charge or trial since January.

The fate of one, Feroz Abbasi, 22, is now the subject of a campaign run by his local Labour MP, Geraint Davies. "Either he should be charged or have legal representation," said Mr Davies. "It's now becoming ridiculous that he has been there for eight months. Our Government has a duty to safeguard his human rights."