Freeze on suspects' assets 'illegal'

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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown's personal contribution to the "war on terror" when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer was a fundamental breach of the Human Rights Act, the country's highest court has said.

Judges at the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the Treasury had exceeded its powers when it brought in measures to freeze the assets of people suspected of having links to terrorism.

The court said the Government was wrong to bypass parliamentary scrutiny when it brought in new rules to block suspects' access to finances. Five men, who were not told why they had been targeted by the orders, are allowed access to just £10 a week in cash and need special permission for other expenses.

The Supreme Court justices said that the issue in the appeals was whether Parliament intended to give the Treasury power to make orders that "interfere so profoundly with individuals' fundamental rights without parliamentary scrutiny". They concluded that Parliament "did not so intend" and the Treasury had exceeded its powers.

The men had argued that the asset-freezing regime severely affected their ability to use property and cash from any source and left their families open to criminal prosecution if they offered help.

In one situation, a minister had to be consulted over whether a suspect could use a car to buy the family groceries from a supermarket, because the vehicle was classed as a financial resource.

A spokesman for the Treasury said it would abide by the ruling and legislate as quickly as possible to make the orders compatible with human rights laws.

"It's important to be clear that this ruling does not challenge the UK's obligations under the UN Charter to freeze the assets of suspected terrorists, which we will continue to meet," the spokesman said.