Britain condemned for flouting human rights

Legal Affairs Correspondent,Robert Verkaik
Thursday 09 June 2005 00:00 BST

Britain's record on human rights has been condemned in a report that criticises the Government for using illiberal policies to tackle terrorism, asylum and antisocial behaviour.

Britain's record on human rights has been condemned in a report that criticises the Government for using illiberal policies to tackle terrorism, asylum and antisocial behaviour.

Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, warned Britain that its regime for combating terrorism flouted the fundamental human right of the presumption of innocence.

The report found the granting of control orders by ministers against terror suspects was "inherently one-sided". Suspects, it added, should be charged under the ordinary criminal justice system. If after 12 months there was insufficient evidence to bring a case to court, the control order should be lifted. Mr Gil-Robles saiddemocratic values and respect for human rights must "be central to the response given to it [terror] by a democratic state... To deny these rights, is to effect ourselves what terrorists wish to achieve".

Control orders were brought in after law lords ruled that the previous system of indefinite detention without trial breached human rights laws.

Under the new measures, the Home Secretary can order a suspect to abide by a curfew, enforced with electronic tagging and restrictions on the use of telephones and the internet.

The commissioner, whose findings are based on investigations during a visit to Britain last November, also expressed concern over the use of evidence obtained under torture. Ministers have said they reserve the right to use torture evidence obtained by another country. But Mr Gil-Robles criticised a Court of Appeal ruling last year in which two out of three judges said that torture evidence could be admissible if it was obtained by a third-party state.

The commissioner was also troubled that disproportionate numbers of suspects from ethnic minority communities were being stopped and searched under anti-terror laws.

The report warned the Government that its policy on antisocial behaviour was criminalising children. No juvenile under 16 should be at risk of imprisonment for breaching an antisocial behaviour order (Asbo). Asbos should be "restricted to... serious cases".

Mr Gil-Robles was also concerned that too many asylum-seekers were being detained for too long before being deported. Children, in particular, should be deprived of their liberty only as a last resort, for the shortesttime.

"A society that loses its sensitivity to the suffering of foreigners, simply because they are foreigners, has lost something very precious indeed," he added.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said the report was a "wake-up call to politicians who have rubbished notions of fairness and basic human dignity".

In response, the Government insisted its policies were compliant with its domestic and international human rights obligations. Ministers will give "careful consideration to the issues and recommendations the commissioner makes in his report". A second report published today is expected to add to the criticism of the Government's treatment of foreign terror suspects.

Members of the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture visited 12 detainees in high-security prisons in Britain last year. Its findings are expected to raise concerns over the indefinite nature of the detention and its effect on the men's mental health.

Commissioner's complaints

TERROR: Control orders that impose conditions of house arrest on terror suspects 'flout the right to the presumption of innocence'

TORTURE EVIDENCE: No evidence obtained by torture must be admissible in court

ASBOS: Government must stop under-16s being sent to prison for breaching these orders. They should be restricted to appropriate and serious cases

ASYLUM: Poor treatment of asylum-seekers has 'placed human rights in peril'. Too much use made of detention in asylum- seeker cases and too many children put in detention

PRISONS: Government must address overcrowding through the construction of new detention facilities and greater investment in alternative sentences and non-custodial pre-trial supervision

SUICIDES: Ministers must act to reverse the high number of juveniles who commit suicide in prison

CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM: Government must begin urgent efforts to make the judiciary more representative of society

TRAVELLERS: Government must reintroduce obligations on local authorities to provide sites for Gypsies and travellers

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