Secret hearings used to detain foreign terror suspects were thrown into doubt yesterday after judges in Europe ordered ministers to pay thousands of pounds of compensation to 11 men who were unlawfully imprisoned after the 9/11 attacks on America.
The European Court of Human Rights judgment paves the way for the radical preacher Abu Qatada to appeal against his detention and be released on bail during his battle to stay in Britain. On Wednesday the House of Lords ruled that the Home Secretary could deport Mr Qatada to Jordan and two Algerians to their home countries despite fears that they faced torture.
Mr Qatada was returned to Belmarsh high security prison last year after an immigration tribunal ruled there was a risk of him breaching the terms of his bail. But that decision, by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), was based largely on evidence held in secret.
Yesterday the European Court of Human Rights ruled hearings which relied on secret evidence were in breach of suspects' human rights, but only awarded him £2,500 compensation.
The published evidence against three of the 11 terror suspects in yesterday's case consisted "purely of general assertions", the court ruled. Siac decisions, when based "solely or to a decisive degree on closed material" were unlawful, it said.
But the judges ruled the suspects' conditions of detention had not reached the "high threshold" of inhuman and degrading treatment for which a human rights violation could be found. However, the rules had "discriminated unjustifiably" between UK nationals and non-nationals – targeting only non-UK citizens. Mr Qatada's lawyers have submitted an application to the European Court appealing against his deportation.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said: "Of course the Court of Human Rights has vindicated the law lords' 2004 ruling that detention without trial was a bad policy that failed to address either fairness or security; £2 per day of unlawful detention is hardly hitting the jackpot. While the damages will disappoint the detainees, they explode the myth of the human rights compensation culture."
Mr Qatada was first detained in 2002, when the UK's Special Immigration Appeals Commission described him as a "truly dangerous individual". In 2005 he was arrested in preparation for his deportation to Jordan, but was again released on appeal.
He was returned to jail last November and remains in Belmarsh high security prison.
The court also awarded payouts of between £1,500 and £3,400 to 10 other men detained in Britain following 9/11 on suspicion of providing support for extremists linked to al-Qa'ida.
The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said she was "very disappointed" with the compensation given to the men. She said: "This judgment is based on historic legislation that we repealed nearly four years ago. I am pleased that the court recognised that these old measures were devised in good faith."
She added: "These men have all been found by our courts to present a threat to our national security. We argued strongly to the European Court that compensation should not be awarded to such individuals.
"While I am very disappointed with any award, I recognise the court has made substantially lower awards than these men sought in view of the fact these measures were devised in the face of a public emergency."Reuse content