Suspects may be released within weeks

Pressure grows on new Home Secretary to release 11 men the House of Lords says are being held behind bars illegally

The foreign terror suspects being held by Britain without trial could be released on bail within weeks after the House of Lords declared that their detention was illegal.

The cases of 10 Arab and North African men - mostly arrested in dawn raids that took place three years ago today - are expected to be reviewed next month by a special tribunal chaired by a High Court judge, Lord Justice Ouseley.

But one of the best-known of the detainees, a Palestinian refugee called Abu Rideh who is now in Broadmoor hospital, could be released on bail long before that hearing.

By coincidence, his bid for release was heard on Thursday and Friday by Lord Ouseley's tribunal last week, a hearing which was immediately overshadowed by the Law Lords' damning criticisms of the anti-terrorism powers enacted almost exactly three years ago.

Introduced in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks by David Blunkett, the then home secretary, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 allowed him to summarily arrest and imprison alleged supporters of al-Qa'ida using secret intelligence reports that have never been disclosed.

The lawyers for the 11 men still in detention, who are spread between Belmarsh high-security prison in London, Broadmoor secure hospital and Woodhill prison near Milton Keynes, are now to press for their urgent release.

Hopes that the detainees could be granted bail rose on Friday after Lord Ouseley signalled that he would rule on the impact of the House of Lords judgment on all the men's cases next month.

The body he chairs, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), which was set up under the 2001 Act to secretly assess the allegations against the detainees, is already due to hold a bail hearing for two of the men in late January.

Gareth Peirce, the lawyer for most of the detainees, said: "The president of SIAC, Lord Ouseley, indicated that those bail applications scheduled for the end of January might constitute an opportunity to look at the implications of the Lords judgment on bail in a more extended way."

However, the men may only be released under extremely strict bail conditions. Earlier this year, one mentally ill detainee, known only as "G", was allowed home under conditions described as "house arrest" by Ms Peirce. The bail agreement requires G to be tagged, bans any visits by friends or relatives, bars him from using his garden, a computer or making phone calls, and very heavily restricts his right to leave home.

Ministers are now under intense pressure to release the men unilaterally. David Pannick QC, one of Britain's most senior barristers, said yesterday that unless Charles Clarke, the new Home Secretary, takes decisive action within weeks then the UK could be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.

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