An honourable departure in the interests of justice

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Ian Macdonald QC is one of a very small number of barristers with special security clearance to defend terrorism suspects before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. From today, however, he will fulfil this function no longer. He is resigning in disgust at the anti-terrorist legislation which allows foreigners to be detained indefinitely without charge.

Ian Macdonald QC is one of a very small number of barristers with special security clearance to defend terrorism suspects before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. From today, however, he will fulfil this function no longer. He is resigning in disgust at the anti-terrorist legislation which allows foreigners to be detained indefinitely without charge.

The departure of this respected lawyer "for reasons of conscience" cannot but be a loss to those whose interests he was appointed to defend. In underlining the unacceptability of Britain's anti-terrorism laws and freeing himself to campaign against them, however, Mr Macdonald is doing not only his clients, but his fellow countrymen, a great service. As he sees it, he was lending legitimacy to a process that was "contrary to our deepest notions of justice" and - following the Law Lords' ruling last week - itself illegal.

In their eight-to-one ruling, the Law Lords were scathing about the Government's anti-terrorist provisions, finding the continued detention of nine foreign suspects to be in violation of human rights laws and discriminatory towards foreign nationals. The language of their condemnation was some of the strongest to have been heard from this august body for years, and their judgment more nearly unanimous than expected.

Rather than announce an immediate review of provisions whose legality had been so thoroughly dismissed, however, the Government responded as though the Law Lords were secondary players whose approval was desirable, but not strictly necessary, for the pursuit of its chosen ends. The Foreign Secretary described the ruling as "simply wrong". The new Home Secretary said he would request Parliament to renew the emergency provisions in the new year, insisting that the detainees would not in the meantime be freed.

Ian Macdonald's refusal to take any further part in this travesty of justice deserves praise. If it also helps to render unworkable the secret court system that gives the anti-terrorist laws their veneer of legality, he will have made a signal contribution to eradicating what he rightly called "an odious blot on our legal landscape".

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