Law Lords Hand British Government Setback on Detentions Policy | Harper's Magazine

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Law Lords Hand British Government Setback on Detentions Policy


Just as the Obama Administration appears to be revving up to propose a new regime of administrative detentions, Britain’s highest court has handed the government of Gordon Brown a serious setback, holding that aspects of their regime violate the human rights of the detainees. In particular, the British court upheld the notion that the detainee was entitled to be confronted with the accusations made against him. The Guardian reports:

The law lords have dealt a major blow to the government’s controversial use of control orders on terror suspects, saying that reliance on secret evidence denies them a fair trial. The nine-judge panel led by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the senior law lord, upheld a challenge on behalf of three men on control orders who cannot be named. The orders have not been quashed but the law lords have ordered that the cases be heard again. The three had argued that the refusal to disclose even the “gist” of the evidence against them denied them a fair trial under the Human Rights Act.

The Home Office argued it was sometimes possible to have a fair hearing without any disclosure, depending on the circumstances of the case. Security-vetted special advocates are supposed to represent the interests of people placed on control orders. Orders imposed on individual suspects by the home secretary can include home curfews of up to 16 hours a day, a ban on travelling abroad, the approval of all visitors by the Home Office, monitoring of all phone calls, and bans on using the internet and mobile phones.

Figures in the Obama Administration have been looking to justify a special regime of administrative detention for individuals who are believed to pose a threat to national security but against whom insufficient evidence has been gathered to justify a criminal case. They have previously cited the British system of control orders, which exists exclusively in the context of immigration law, as a possible model.

In their ruling, the law lords insisted that the person subject to detention had an absolute right to know the suspicions directed against him. Lord Phillips wrote in his decision, “A trial procedure can never be considered fair if a party to it is kept in ignorance of the case against him.”

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