Britain's law lords ruled unanimously yesterday that the use of secret evidence to impose control orders on terrorism suspects, which drastically restricts civil liberties, violated their human rights.
Nine law lords unanimously upheld an appeal by three men who argued it was against their human rights to be subject to control orders, a form of house arrest, based on secret evidence they are not privy to and cannot challenge in court.
"A trial procedure can never be considered fair if a party to it is kept in ignorance of the case against him," wrote Nicholas Phillips, Britain's most senior law lord, in issuing the lengthy judgment.
"If the wider public are to have confidence in the justice system, they need to be able to see that justice is done rather than being asked to take it on trust."
The law lords' ruling, the Guardian says, may overturn the control order regime as the 20 terrorism suspects under control orders seek fresh challenges to their house arrests.
According to the Independent, control orders can include: "House curfews for up to 16 hours a day; control of internet and telephone access; electronic tagging; bans on foreign travel; daily reporting to police; bans on associating with certain people."
The Guardian reports that the law lords believe that issuing control orders on a suspect without showing the evidence against them violates Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects a person's right to a fair trial.
"This report calls for an end to the use of secret evidence," the document says. "Secret evidence is unreliable, unfair, undemocratic, unnecessary and damaging to both national security and the integrity of Britain's courts."
The government believes otherwise.
"Protecting the public is my top priority and this judgment makes that task harder," the new Home Secretary Alan Johnson said in a statement. "We introduced control orders to limit the risk posed by suspected terrorists whom we can neither prosecute nor deport. All control orders will remain in force for the time being and we will continue to seek to uphold them in the courts."
Johnson said the government will continue to defend the control order regime in court while it considers its options in light of the ruling.
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