MPs condemn house arrest and tagging plan to 'control' terror suspectsBy Robert Verkaik and Nigel Morris
27 January 2005
Ministers plan to arm themselves with personal powers to impose tough restrictions on the freedom of British terror suspects, including animal rights protesters, in a move widely condemned by MPs and civil liberty groups last night.
New civil anti-terrorist orders will replace emergency legislation passed after the 11 September attacks that allowed suspected foreign terrorists to be detained at Belmarsh and other high-security prisons without trial, legislation ruled unlawful by the House of Lords last month.
Controversially, the new "control orders" will be imposed by the Home Secretary, and not by a court of law. Suspects will be subject to curfews, tagging and a potential requirement "to remain at their premises", or house arrest. These conditions will restrict movement, restrict association and communication with "named individuals" and limit access to telephones, the internet or other technology.
The security services are understood to have approved the measures because they would need only to produce enough evidence to satisfy the civil test for the standard of proof, a balance of probabilities.
But the measures are expected to be challenged in the courts where their legality will be finally determined by the House of Lords in a possible repeat of the legal process that brought about the change in the first place.
Responding to the proposals - first mooted by the former home secretary David Blunkett - Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "The Home Secretary is right to show respect for the House of Lords' damning ruling. But temporary restrictions upon a suspect's liberty are only legitimate as long as a criminal charge and trial are in prospect ... The Government should not swap one human rights 'opt-out' for another."
Selected judges would be able to review the evidence, some of which would be secret and not disclosed to the suspect. The laws would lead to a new system of terror orders, reviewed under procedures already used by the controversial Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac).
Yesterday's proposals were also criticised by a leading QC who resigned from the panel of barristers representing the detainees at the Siac hearings last month in protest at the "odious" emergency legislation. Ian Macdonald said the control orders were based on the suspicion of terrorism and not the presumption of innocence.
The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, said he recognised such severe restrictions on British citizens would be controversial. "I am very well aware that the proposals ... represent a very substantial increase in the executive powers of state in relation to British citizens who we fear are preparing terrorist activities and against whom we cannot proceed in open court." But the terror suspects in Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons will remain certified and in jail "between now and when the new legislation is in place", the Home Secretary told MPs, adding he believed they "continue to pose a threat to national security".
David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, warned that the plans for house arrest, which he described as "effectively internment", could be counter-productive.
"Unless the process is clearly just, the Home Secretary could find himself confining one known terrorist only to recruit for our enemies 10 unknown terrorists. So justice must be seen to be done because the perception of injustice could destroy or reverse the effectiveness of these proposals."
John Denham, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, warned: "The use of these powers against British citizens will attract more concern and scrutiny than its use against foreign nationals."
Robert Marshall-Andrews, the Labour MP for Medway, said: "This represents the most substantial increase in the powers of the state over citizens for 300 years."
Mr Clarke replied that in the past three centuries Britain had rarely been presented with "threats of the type and scale we face today".
Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said: "To have individuals interned in their own homes in the middle of our cities is, if anything, even more incendiary than imprisoning them."
Amnesty International's UK director, Kate Allen, said: "The Government is still sidestepping the law courts, still detaining people on secret evidence; only people will now be detained in their homes rather than at Belmarsh prison."
THE DETAINEES: FROM ALGERIA TO JORDAN
Detainee P : An Algerian who arrived on 18 February 1999. His left arm was amputated at the wrist and the right below the elbow.
Detainee C: An Egyptian granted refugee status in 2001 after fleeing Syria. Claimed he was sentencedto 15 years' jail in Egypt for "underground activities".
Mahmoud Abu Rideh: Aged 32, born in Jordan to Palestinian parents. Claimed asylum in 1995.In Broadmoor since July 2002 with severe mental illness.
Abu Qatada: Aged 44, the Palestinian cleric was granted asylum 10 years ago. Arrested in 2002, accused of being al-Qa'ida's main agent in Europe.
Detainee G: An Algerian with polio, suspected of al-Qa'ida links. Mental health so bad judges released him on house arrest.
Detainee A: A North African asylum-seeker, arrested in a dawn raid in Luton. Held in Woodhill Prison, Milton Keynes.
Detainee K: Algerian,arrived from Spain February 1998. Claimed asylumas draft evader. Absconded from Yarlswood Detention Centre after fire, February 2002. Rearrested September 2002.
Detainee B: An Algerian in his 30s, alleged to have provided satellite phones for extremists.
Detainee E: Allegedly a member of a group aiming to establish an Islamic state in Tunisia.
Detainee H: An Algerian who came to Britain in 1993. Accused of involvement with a group said to have links to Bin Laden and to sponsor young Muslims to go to Afghanistan for jihad.
Detainee I: Algerian, arrived 1995. Accused of fundraising for terror groups.
Detainee S: The longest in custody, an Algerian who arrived from Pakistan in 1998 on a forged passport. Received six months' jail for fraud. Rearrested in 2001 on suspicion of terrorism.
CLERIC LINKS BELMARSH DETAINEES
Many of the 12 men still detained under Britain's emergency terror laws are linked. Some knew each other before being jailed and others were working to help Muslim communities across the world.
All have paid a high price for associating, which has been used by the intelligence services to hold them without trial on suspicion of terrorism.
The man at the centre of the group, the security services say, is Abu Qatada, a 44-year-old Palestinian-born cleric, also known as Omar Othman. He is the most prominent and is said to be the key figure whom other detainees defer to in House 4, the X-shaped wing where most of them are held at Belmarsh prison in south-east London.
Abu Qatada has been sentenced to life in his absence in Jordan for alleged involvement in explosions and several Western governments have labelled him Osama bin Laden's "spiritual ambassador in Europe". Any kind of contact with Abu Qatada has been submitted as evidence of reasonable suspicion of links with international terrorism.
But detention through association has not proved wholly successful. A trip to Dorset by a group of Muslim men including two of the detainees, known as G and H, was seen by MI5 as a clandestine meeting to elect a terrorist leader. The Special Immigration Appeal Commission, which reviewed the detentions, accepted that the police report may have only shown that the men were on a male-bonding holiday.
The judges said: "It is most unfortunate that a combination of a poor police report and a failure to look properly into the available information led to a mistaken attempt to paint a picture of a gathering to elect an emir or leader of a group."