Ruling puts brake on attempts to weaken Human Rights Act

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The Independent Online

The law lords' landmark judgment will act as a constitutional break on any further attempts by the Government to weaken the principles of the Human Rights Act.

The law lords' landmark judgment will act as a constitutional break on any further attempts by the Government to weaken the principles of the Human Rights Act.

By questioning the Government's response to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, the law lords have seriously ruffled ministers' feathers.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Britain was the only country to consider the threat so imminent that it was necessary to opt out from article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

And so it was on 15 October 2001 that David Blunkett, the former home secretary, unveiled powers to allow the security services to detain foreign suspects without charge or trial. Ministers rushed the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (ATCSA) through Parliament and on 14 December the new law received royal assent. Five days later anti-terror officers arrested eight suspected international terrorists. Mr Blunkett personally signed their detention certificates.

None of the suspects was told of what they were accused or how long they could expect to be held in British prisons.

But in July 2002 the first sign of judicial disquiet was found in a ruling of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), which said that the law is "not only discriminatory and so unlawful ... but also it is disproportionate" because it only applies to foreign nationals.

In October, the Court of Appeal overruled the Siac decision. And on 12 February 2003, the Government's independent reviewer of anti-terrorism laws, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, backed Mr Blunkett. But on 18 March this year, detainee M was freed after the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, upheld a Siac ruling that his 16-month detention was based on "wholly unreliable" evidence. The next month, detainee G was granted bail after Siac ruled he could be held under effective house arrest due to his failing mental health. Mr Blunkett condemned the decision as "extraordinary".

On 4 August Parliament's all-party Joint Committee on Human Rights also condemned ATCSA's internment powers.

The judicial committee of the House of Lords began hearing the appeal by nine of the detainees on 4 October.Last week The Independent on Sunday reported that two detainees had been moved from Belmarsh high-security prison to Broadmoor secure mental hospital - taking to four the number of detainees suffering from serious mental ill-health.