Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Terror suspects win legal battle

Three terror suspects have won their legal battle in the House of Lords to prove that the governments policy of holding them under virtual house arrest - without even telling them what crime they are accused of - is illegal.

Nine Law Lords unanimously ruled it was unfair individuals should be kept in ignorance of the case against them.

They did not quash the men's orders, but one warned the ruling could spell the end of the control orders system.

The home secretary called the decision "disappointing" but said all control orders would remain in force for now.

The Home Office uses control orders against terror suspects who cannot be tried because of secret intelligence.

In practical terms, the ruling means the cases must return to the High Court lower courts to be reheard.

In turn, the Home Office will need to decide either to release more material to the men and to the public - or rescind the orders.

It has always been one of the most controversial aspects of New Labour's anti-terrorist policies because the suspect is given no opportunity to defend themselves at all as they are never quite sure of what it is they are actually suspected of planning.

Ruling in favour of the men Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the senior Law Lord on the case, said: "A trial procedure can never be considered fair if a party to it is kept in ignorance of the case against him.

"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 best way of producing a fair trial is to ensure that a party to it has the fullest information of both the allegations that are made against him and the evidence relied upon in support of those allegations."

It simply astounds me that in the wake of 9-11, at the very time when both the British and the American governments were telling us that our very way of life was at stake, they they - of all people - were the ones making the most drastic changes one could imagine to the way we live and to what most of us consider fair.

As Lord Phillips rightly points out, they have really simply being asking us to trust them.

That was almost exactly what the Bush regime demanded and the things that we are finding out since they fell from power - Cheney ordering people be tortured in a crude attempt to falsify a link between Iraq and 9-11 and many others - were simply disgraceful.

Government shouldn't be taken on trust. That was never the way the system was designed to operate. And, as the crimes of the Bush regime slowly come to light, one realises that there are very good reasons why the system demands accountability.

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