Last June the law lords dealt a major blow to the controversial use of control orders on terror suspects, a key part of the governmentâ€™s battle against terrorism since the July 2005 bombings, saying that reliance on secret evidence denies them a fair trial. The nine-judge panel upheld a challenge on behalf of three men on control orders who could not be named. The orders were not quashed but the law lords ordered that the cases be heard again. Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the senior law lord who led the panel, said that â€œa trial procedure can never be considered fair if a party to it is kept in ignorance of the case against himâ€.
As a result of this ruling up to 20 men regarded as Britainâ€™s most dangerous terror suspects became able to challenge their detention. A man of dual Libyan and British nationality, known as AF, had been subject to a control order for three years because of alleged links with Islamic terrorists. His order has been revoked. Another terror suspect, known as AN, suspected of links to al-Qaida, was released from his control order in July. AE, an Iraqi national suspected of involvement in terrorist training and activities, has also been released from his control order. Two more are due to begin court battles from 1 October to get their control orders revoked as a result of the Law Lords ruling. This reduces the total number of terror suspects currently under the surveillance regime to 15. For the first time, the majority of them â€“ nine out of 15 â€“ are British citizens, with seven living in the London area.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson told the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales conference on 16 September that control orders are not perfect but they remain the best option to protect the public. On this basis, he had decided to maintain their availability â€œwithin the constraints of the House of Lords judgment.â€ He added “however, as further control order cases are considered by the courts during the autumn, I will be keeping this assessment under review.â€
At the same time, in a ministerial statement, he has ordered a wholesale review of the control orders regime. â€œI have asked the independent reviewer of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, the Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, to review the impact of the House of Lords judgment and to advise me as to whether the assessment that the regime remains viable is right.” In addition Lord Carlile has been asked to keep a watching brief on further control order cases in the high court over the next few months, to assist in the process of assessing the workability of the regime. Lord Carlile is due to report back early next year.