Terror detainees win Lords appeal  -  Thursday, 16 December, 2004


Detaining foreign terrorist suspects without trial breaks human rights laws, the UK's highest court has ruled.


I think most people would agree that an attack on any country involving the taking of innocent civilian lives is appalling.  


To think that any intelligent person would consider strapping a bomb to himself to deliberately harm others, simply to gain attention for his cause, says something about the mind set of extremist politicians outside the arena of normal democratic processes.  


Having experienced first hand what many people would agree is unreasonable use of authority, where local authority and planning in England is concerned, I can well understand that if you take everything away from someone, or what is perceived as everything to that person, then in those circumstances Governments can expect unpredictable results.





Nelson says: "Listen and Learn"



Perhaps then, it is time for world powers to put in place an international, impartial and formally recognized mechanism to give a threatened minorities a political voice, without having to resort to barbaric means.  Organizations or groups wishing to have their concerns aired, could then do so and in the process, reduce (if not eliminate) the constant threat to world peace, so much on the minds of politicians everywhere.  Unfortunately, there will always be someone somewhere frustrated enough to want to take lives.  The golden rule here is: "He who shouts first, has already lost the argument."


I find I agree with the House of Lords, it is contrary to the Human Rights Act, Article 6, to lock someone up without giving them a fair trial within a reasonable time.  On the other hand we should be able to protect ourselves from terrorists.  The question is, "How can this be achieved and still conduct ourselves in a manner which protects the rights of the individual".  Put yourselves in the shoes of one of the accused.  Let us say you are innocent and you cannot afford legal representation.  Let us also say you are simply passing through a foreign country on a Gap Year.


You would expect to be treated with some respect.  You would expect to be told exactly what it is you are accused of, and you would expect a solicitor to be appointed for the charges to be tried or otherwise dropped.  You would not expect to be deprived of your liberty, simply because your captors had insufficient evidence to secure a successful prosecution!  In England we should uphold the assumption that you are innocent until proven guilty!







In a blow to the government's anti-terror measures, the House of Lords ruled by an eight to one majority in favor of appeals by nine detainees. The Law Lords said the measures were incompatible with European human rights laws, but Home Secretary Charles Clarke said the men would remain in prison.  He said the measures would "remain in force" until the law was reviewed.


Most of the men are being held indefinitely in Belmarsh prison, south London.  The ruling creates a major problem for Mr Clarke on his first day as home secretary following David Blunkett's resignation.  In a statement to MPs, Mr Clarke said: "I will be asking Parliament to renew this legislation in the New Year.  "In the meantime, we will be studying the judgment carefully to see whether it is possible to modify our legislation to address the concerns raised by the House of Lords."

Solicitor Gareth Peirce, who represents eight of the detainees, said: "The government has to take steps to withdraw the legislation and release the detainees."

If there was no swift government action, the detainees could ask the European Court of Human Rights to get involved, she added.


The Liberal Democrats say Mr Clarke should use the fact he is new to the job to take issue with a law established by his predecessor, David Blunkett.  The detainees took their case to the House of Lords after the Court of Appeal backed the Home Office's powers to hold them without limit or charge.


The government opted out of part of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the right to a fair trial in order to bring in anti-terrorism legislation in response to the 11 September attacks in the US.  Any foreign national suspected of links with terrorism can be detained or can opt to be deported.



Belmarsh Prison


But those detained cannot be deported if this would mean persecution in their homeland.

On Thursday, Lord Bingham - a senior law lord - said the rules were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights as they allowed detentions "in a way that discriminates on the ground of nationality or immigration status" by justifying detention without trial for foreign suspects, but not Britons.


Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, in his ruling, said: "Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law.  "It deprives the detained person of the protection a criminal trial is intended to afford."

But Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, the one law lord to oppose the appeal, said the anti-terror laws contained important safeguards against oppression.


In a statement, detainee 'A' in Woodhill Prison said: "I hope now that the government will act upon this decision, scrap this illegal 'law' and release me and the other internees to return to our families and loved ones." 


The case was heard by a panel of nine law lords rather than the usual five because of the constitutional importance of the case.  Ms Peirce claimed the detention had driven four of the detainees to "madness", saying two were being held in Broadmoor hospital.  When the men were first held, they took their cases to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC).


The commission ruled on 30 July, 2002 that the anti-terror act unjustifiably discriminated against foreign nationals as British people could not be held in the same way.  But that ruling was later overturned by the Court of Appeal who said there was a state of emergency threatening the life of the nation.




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Belmarsh - Britain's Guantanamo Bay?


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The British government is expected to run into trouble with opposition parties on Tuesday when it unveils a new anti-terror bill that gives the interior minister power to place suspects under house arrest.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke is expected to make limited concessions to appease his critics, however, by announcing that the so-called control orders for terrorist suspects will be subject to a limited review by a senior judge.


In a statement to the House of Commons later in the day, he will also emphasise the need for the new legislation to counter a heightened terrorist threat in the country, and with the current law due to expire on March 14.


"I find it unimaginable that people will say that faced with the terrorist threat that we have... we should simply abandon our existing legislative framework and do absolutely nothing in its place," Clarke told BBC radio, accusing the main opposition Conservative Party of adopting such a stance.


Clarke is expected to reveal that he would issue the initial detention or restriction order and any renewal, but a high court judge would have the power to overturn his decision in relation to a house arrest order within seven days.


The Conservatives and rival Liberal Democrat Party have insisted that all such anti-terror orders, which include banning someone from using a phone or a computer, should be the job of the judiciary alone.


"You still have this fundamental problem of giving to a politician, to the Home Secretary, the power to take somebody's freedom away," the Liberal Democrat's home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten told BBC radio.  "And we just don't think that any politician should have that power."


While recognizing that terrorism was a major issue, Oaten argued that it was not an excuse to trample on the key principles of justice, adding that the bill in its current form would fail to pass through Britain's unelected House of Lords, which can delay but not overturn legislation.  Failure to promulgate the bill would potentially leave Britain without any anti-terror rules after the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, deemed unlawful by the House of Lords in December, expires on March 14.


"That is why it is important that we can still try to persuade the government to think again on a couple of issues of principle so we can at least get an alternative in place, rather than renewing something which the House of Lords and the law lords have said is unlawful," Oaten said.

In Britain, draft legislation is required to pass through the elected House of Commons followed by the House of Lords before it is signed into law.


Clarke's proposals have triggered further outrage after it was announced that he hopes to rush it through the Commons in just two days -- restricting time for proper debate.


In an 8-1 ruling on December 16, the Law Lords, the country's highest court ruled that detaining foreign terror suspects indefinitely without trial violated human rights laws.


In January, Clarke announced that such suspects would no longer be jailed indefinitely but placed under "control orders," such as curfews, electronic tagging or a form of house arrest.


The measures, he said, would apply equally to foreigners and Britons to avoid discrimination.

In the last few weeks, two of 12 foreign terror suspects who were jailed indefinitely without trial have been released on bail, their lawyers said. One of them, an Egyptian, was instead placed under house arrest, his lawyer said.





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