Leading article: A timely legal rebuke to this official culture of secrecy

The Law Lords were right to find fault with the system of control orders

Share
Related Topics

When it comes to dealing with terror suspects, this Government seems incapable of learning from its mistakes. After the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, ministers were panicked into locking up foreign suspects without a proper trial. In 2005 the Law Lords ruled that this emergency detention contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Government's response was to subject these suspects to a system of control orders, which drastically curtailed their movement and freedom of association. And now those control orders have also been found legally flawed by a panel of Law Lords.

The new Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, has promised to "consider this judgment and our options carefully". We shall have to wait and see what emerges but considering the tortuous history of this case it is hard to be optimistic about the chances of the Government coming up with a sensible plan of action.

Yesterday's unanimous verdict ought not to have come as a surprise, given the opaque nature of the control-order system. As Lord Phillips of Matravers, the senior law lord on the case, put it: "A trial procedure can never be considered fair if a party to it is kept in ignorance of the case against him." It is not only the European Convention on Human Rights which enshrines this principle in our law. The right of the accused to an open trial goes back to Magna Carta.

In recent years ministers have attempted to portray opponents of control orders as insufficiently serious about the terrorism threat facing Britain. Such attacks would have more credibility were it not for the fact that seven individuals have absconded while under supervision in the past three years. Control orders have been a classic manifestation of this Government's tendency to ineffective authoritarianism.

Ministers ought to face up to the fact that they can only deal with these terror suspects in two ways: either put them on trial or allow them to go free. The first option would be preferable. Assuming that the police and security services have not been utterly incompetent or corrupt, there is probably a case for treating these individuals as a potential threat to public safety.

The barrier to such prosecutions is the fact that phone-tap evidence – which we must presume provides the bulk of the case in such instances – is inadmissible in conventional courts.

The intelligence services claim that opening up such evidence to public scrutiny would expose the methods of the secret services and compromise their work. Yet this has not been the experience of the US, which has long allowed intercept evidence in its courts. And the opposition parties have signalled their willingness to accept safeguards in any legislation to maintain the privacy that the intelligence services need to do their job.

But ministers have been dragging their feet. Despite Gordon Brown's acceptance of the recommendations of the Chilcot report last year, which made the case for allowing some intercept evidence to be used in courts, nothing has been forthcoming.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, for this Government, maintaining the veil of secrecy in its counter-terrorism activity is a higher priority than maintaining the rule of law. Until they change that mindset, ministers should expect more humiliating rebukes of the sort they received yesterday from the Law Lords.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

 

Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam