High Court quashes control orders on Iraqis

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The Independent Online

The Government repeated its threat to curb the power of judges yesterday after a court dealt another blow to Labour's anti-terror measures by quashing control orders on six Iraqis living in Britain.

It is the second time in three months the High Court has declared that the system of controlling the movement of terror suspects is in clear breach of human rights law.

If ministers fail to overturn the rulings in the Court of Appeal, the Government will have little choice but to release the Iraqi asylum seekers, identified as GG, HH, JJ, KK, LL and NN. The decision will affect six more men, including three Britons, also living under a form of house arrest.

After the ruling, the Prime Minister's spokesman warned that the Government, if necessary, would act to ensure the courts did not frustrate measures to deal with suspected terrorists. He said: "You already know there is a process of looking at the issues around the Human Rights Act. What we have said in the past is we will look at the issues surrounding implementation of the Act. That position remains. Action on these kinds of cases is necessary and we will do all we can to make sure action takes place."

Yesterday, Mr Justice Sullivan, sitting at the High Court in London, said control orders were "incompatible" with Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prevents indefinite detention without trial.

He ruled: "It follows that the [Home Secretary] had no power to make the orders and they must therefore all be quashed."

In April, the same judge ruled in favour of a British man, MB, whose movements are subject to strict a control order. Mr Justice Sullivan said that, because the man was not given an opportunity to question the case against him, the order was a breach of his rights under the European Convention.

Ministers brought in the control orders last year after the House of Lords ruled the previous policy of detention of foreign terror suspects without trial or charge was also incompatible with human rights legislation.

The new laws gave the Home Secretary the power to impose control orders on all terror suspects, whether British or foreign.

But in a damning verdict on the Government's anti-terror policy, Mr Justice Sullivan said those powers amounted to a deprivation of liberty which was incompatible with human rights law.

After the decision the men's lawyer, Natalia Garcia, hailed the judge's ruling as a victory for civil liberties. She said the Government was attempting to achieve its aim "by sleight of hand".

She added: "What they have done is to impose conditions of such draconian severity as to be a deprivation of liberty. Mr Justice Sullivan has rightly said the control orders are incompatible with the men's right to liberty under Article 5, and that the Secretary of State actually had no powers to make them. It is heartening the courts will still act as a check against the Government when it seeks to ride roughshod over basic human rights and civil liberties such as the fundamental right to liberty.

The Home Secretary, John Reid, said: "Public safety is our top priority. Where foreign nationals pose a threat to this country, we will seek to remove them.''