Belmarsh suspects to be freed after Clarke gives in to pressure

Legal Affairs Correspondent,Robert Verkaik
Wednesday 26 January 2005 01:00

Eleven foreign terror suspects held without trial for three years under controversial emergency legislation are to be released without charge in a government climbdown to be announced today.

The men's release is part of ministers' response to a historic House of Lords ruling last month that found the Government in breach of fundamental human rights laws. That judgment sparked a constitutional crisis, leading to calls for a rethink on Britain's response to the September 11 attacks.

Under the proposals, the 11 men accused of links with al-Qa'ida terror groups are expected to face tough restrictions on their movements in this country. Some could be deported.

The emergency terror legislation rushed through parliament in the aftermath of September 11 is expected to be replaced with tough new powers allowing judges to grant anti-terrorist behaviour orders on British and foreign terror suspects. Under the proposal a suspect could be made subject to tough controls on their movement and behaviour.

The foreign terror suspects, who are being held at Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons and Broadmoor high security hospital, could be released under a form of house arrest or forced to comply with tight police reporting requirements.

The new civil orders could be granted using secret evidence gathered by the police and intelligence services which need not to be disclosed to the suspect. This would extend procedures already used by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission which reviews the legality of the detention of foreign terror suspects.

The police and Crown Prosecution Service would, under the proposals, be able to secure anti-terrorist orders on an evidential balance of probabilities rather than the higher criminal standard of proof, beyond reasonable doubt. The move is controversial as it would extend the Government's emergency terror laws to British citizens but still require the Government to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, will announce in the Commons today how the Government intends to respond to the House of Lords ruling that found the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act to be in breach of human rights laws.

Under this legislation, 17 foreign terror suspects were rounded up in police raids after September 11. Eleven remain in detention while a twelfth is under house arrest.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the civil liberties group Liberty, said any new measures must comply with the human rights legislation. "Any changes must respect both the letter and the spirit of the House of Lords decision. We don't want the government to play cat and mouse with the law lords," she said. Gareth Peirce, who represents most of the Belmarsh detainees, said anything other than the complete withdrawal of part 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act could not be justified.

In a majority eight-to-one decision last year, the law Lords ruled that the treatment of the foreign terror suspects was discriminatory because the laws applied only to non-Britons.

Delivering the law lords' ruling, Lord Hoffmann went so far as to suggest that the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act itself was a bigger threat to the nation than terrorism. But Mr Clarke, in a statement to MPs, said at the time: "My primary role as Home Secretary is to protect national security and to ensure the safety and security of this country. I will not be revoking the certificates or releasing the detainees, whom I have reason to believe are a significant threat to our security."

The detainees would remain in prison, he said, until Parliament decided "whether and how we should amend the law". He said he would study the judgment to see whether it was possible to modify the legislation "to address the concerns raised by the House of Lords".

THREE YEARS OF DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL

15 October, 2001

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, unveils the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, enabling authorities to detain suspects without trial

19 December

Eight suspected suspects detained under new act. These are Djamel Ajouaou, Abu Rideh and unidentified men A, C, D, E, F and G. Ajouaou voluntarily leaves UK, as allowed under the act, and returns to native Morocco.

5 February, 2002

Suspect B is detained

12 March

Suspect F, from Algeria, leaves voluntarily for France

22 April

Suspects H and I detained

30 July

Special Immigration Appeals Commission rules the law is "discriminatory" and "unlawful"

23 November

Suspect K is detained

15 January, 2003

Suspects M and 4 detained

12 February

Lord Carlile rules that Mr Blunkett's use of powers is "appropriate"

7 August

Suspect 3 detained

2 October

Suspect 2 detained

30 October

SIAC upholds Mr Blunkett's decision in cases of 10 detainees it examined

26 February, 2004

Mr Blunkett announces plans for new anti-terror legislation. He insists internment will remain "essential" element

18 March

Libyan detainee M, 37, freed after 16 months at Belmarsh. Lord Woolf upholds SIAC ruling that detention was unjustified

23 April

Detainee G released on bail after SIAC ruling that the 35-year-old Algerian should be held under house arrest due to mental illness. Mr Blunkett calls decision "extraordinary"

5 August

All-party Joint Committee on Human Rights calls for alternatives to internment

21 September

Detainee D freed from Belmarsh on Mr Blunkett's order after three years

16 December

Law lords rule that detaining foreign suspects without trials breaks human rights laws

19 December

Ian MacDonald QC, on the SIAC panel, quits in protest at "odious" anti-terror laws

16 January 2005

Rick Scannell also resigns in protest from SIAC

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