House Arrest

Burma

The BBC has started a series of articles about life in Burma

I was only in Burma for a short time, but I quickly found out how uncomfortable it is to be under surveillance

The article reminds us of the plight of Nobel Prizewinner Aung San Suu Kyi, and further reading reveals that she may be ill at the moment

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of the past two decades under house arrest. She has been in 'protective custody' continuously since 2003

Reply from Hazel Blears

Hazel Blears replied to my MP after I wrote a letter stating my concerns about the government trying to claim the power to remove liberty without due process. My MP forwarded my concerns to the home office.

Coincidental that this should occur today... the letter from Hazel Blears is undated, but it was forwarded to me yesterday.

Hazel Blears, as expected, put out the usual government spin, and my MP did nothing that couldn't have been done by a post office forwarding system. I still don't know where the man stands.

Thank you for your letter dated 1 February 2005 on behalf of XXXXXX of YYYYY about the Home Secretary's control orders proposals.

The ATCS Act 2001 introduced exceptional powers to counter the risks posed by terrorist activities. Part 4 of the Act is an immigration power which enables the Home Secretary to certify and detain foreign nationals who are suspected of involvement in international terrorism and who are believed to present a risk to our national security but cannot, at present, be removed from the United Kingdom. They cannot currently be removed, as a result of either practical considerations or the United Kingdom's international obligations, such as those under the European Court of Human Rights. However, the detainees are free to leave this country voluntarily at any time, as two have already chosen to do.

Whilst Article 5(1) (f) of the ECHR permits the detention of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation, UK caselaw is clear - a person can only be detained if there is a reasonable prospect of their removal within a reasonable time. In the Part 4 cases, where there is a barrier to removal, we would therefore be prevented from detaining these individuals, pending their ultimate removal, without a derogation from the ECHR.

This is why a derogation was sought from Article 5 of the ECHR in relation to the part 4 powers. The detainees challenged the legality of the derogation. On Thursday 16 December 2004 the House of Lords allowed the appeal in the case of A and others V the Secretary of State for Home Department.' The Law Lords ruled that the powers in Part 4 section 23 of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 were incompatible with Articles 5 and 14 of the ECHR in so far as they are disproportionate, and permit detention of suspected international terrorists in a way that discriminates on the grounds of nationality or immigration status.

This appeal was about the compatibility of domestic law with ECHR and it is ultimately for Parliament to decide whether and how the law should be amended. There is no legal obligation to release the detainees as a result of this judgment.

The part 4 powers have been used sparingly, a total of 16 people have been certified and detained under the part 4 powers. One other person has been certified but detained under other powers. Of these 10 people remain in detention. One individual appeal against certification was upheld, two certificates have been revoked by the Home Secretary and one detainee has been bailed under strict bail conditions.

There are extensive legal safeguards, including an individual right of appeal against certification to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). SIAC is a superior court of record chaired by a high court judge. SIAC also conducts statutory reviews and those detained can also apply to SIAC for bail at any time.

As the Home Secretary announced in his statement on 26 January, we are seeking to develop alternatives to the part 4 powers. We are continuing with the work on deportation with assurances for foreign nationals who we can and should deport. We are also planning to introduce control orders, which would enable a range of preventative measures to be placed on a suspected terrorist irrespective of nationality, where we can neither prosecute nor deport. These will be preventative measures designed to disrupt and restrict an individual's activities where intelligence assessments indicate involvement in terrorism.

These orders will:

  1. be capable of general application to any suspected terrorist irrespective of nationality and, for most of the controls, the nature of terrorist activity.
  2. consist of a range of provisions from a ban on the use of communications equipment to restrictions to premises in very serious cases
  3. allow for a criminal sanction for a breach of any order imposed include independent judicial scrutiny of each case involving the hearing of evidence in both open and closed session, both against the imposition of an order and any subsequent variations of the provisions. There will also be regular reviews of extant orders.

As the Home Secretary said in his statement on the 26th January "A careful balance has to be struck between the rights of an individual and the protection of society against threats from organisations which seek to destroy". We believe that these powers will address this balance in a proportionate and effective manner.

It is ultimately for Parliament to decide whether and how we should amend the law. The Governments intention is to introduce a bill to give effect to control orders as soon as is practicable. It may be possible to enact the bill in a time scale that makes renewal of the part 4 powers unnecessary. Should that not be possible the Government will seek to renew the Part 4 powers for a limited time to enable the new powers to be put in place.

The Home Secretary will not be revoking the certificates of the current detainees between now and when the new powers are in place unless the threat they pose changes and they no longer meet the criteria for certification.

Andy Hamilton on the news quiz: 'What a topsy turvey world we live in when our best hope of opposing draconian laws is Michael Howard'. and 'Am I alone in having an extreme dislike for ... Hazel Blears'. The consensus was 'no'. The news quiz is available for download from saturday afternoon and will be available for a week.

Kofi Annan made a Keynote address to the Closing Plenary of the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security in Madrid

By the same token, the United Nations must continue to insist that, in the fight against terrorism, we cannot compromise the core values I have listed. In particular, human rights and the rule of law must always be respected. As I see it, terrorism is in itself a direct attack on human rights and the rule of law. If we sacrifice them in our response, we will be handing victory to the terrorists.

Quite so, Kofi.

House Arrest

I've had a letter from the Office of the Leader of the Opposition in response to the letter I copied to Michael Howard.

It reads as follows:

Thank you for your recent letter to Michael Howard about the Government's policies on house arrest, as laid out in the Prevention of Terrorism Bill currently before Parliament.

The Government's proposals centre around house arrest for suspected terrorists on the say so of the Home Secretary. David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, and Mr Howard have thought long and hard about these proposals. They have serious misgivings about both their effectiveness in protecting life and their consequences for the British way of life.

We have always said that this was a bad Bill. The Government have not allowed anything like enough time for Parliament to consider it.

In the time available, the Conservative Party has put down a number of amendments to improve the Bill which we will continue to press. These include, for example, that there should be judicial decisions on all the control orders and that there should be a reconsideration of the appropriate burden of proof in relation to the making of the orders.

But even if the Government give way on all the amendments we regard as essential, the Bill will still be unsatisfactory. That is why we are calling for an additional safeguard which is that the Bill even with those essential amendments will need to be replaced in November. This will give the Government of the day the time necessary to bring forward a properly considered Bill to deal with terrorism.

However, if the amendments we regard as essential are not passed, including the sunset clause, the Conservative Party will vote against the Bill.

Thank you for taking the trouble to write.

Yours sincerely,

(name removed)
Office of the Leader of the Opposition

House Arrest and my Prospective MP (Tory)

I've received a reply from the Conservative Candidate in my area regarding the house arrest of terror suspects.

My apologies for not replying earlier.

I take the threat of terrorism very seriously. Which is why I want to see terrorists face trial and be punished, not be placed under house arrest at the request of the executive.

I'm sorry you found it so hard to find my website. I'll explore what we can do to ensure a higher profile. And thanks also for your blog tips

(I made some comments about putting in an RSS feed, and how it was so difficult to find out who the conservative candidate was given that the current guy was deselected - though I don't support the chap in all things, he'll probably be my MP as this is a safe seat and I want to keep tabs on what he's doing.)

House Arrest

Whilst in a letter writing mood, I'm firing off another letter to my MP. Now, I've not been terribly impressed with him in the past, despite being a conservative (i.e. in the opposition) he has tended to forward my letter on the the appropriate government department and cc: me the reply. There seems to have been nothing which could not have been done by an automated mail handling system.

This time the letter is about the latest 'great idea' from the Home Office, house arrest. I've explicitly asked for his opinions, as well as mentioning that i'd cc'd the letter to the leader of his party as well as the director of liberty, Shami Chakrabarti.

Coupled with the Civil Contingencies bill it's all fun-fun-fun.

It probably will have little effect, as Howard is unlikely to read it.

Anyway, fingers crossed.

Update: I have just drafted a modified version of this letter which I've sent to Charles Kennedy. The modified version is essentially the same, but begins with: I am writing to you as the "leader of the opposition", I have written a similar letter direct to my MP (Nick Hawkins), as well as sending a copy to Michael Howard and Shami Chakrabarti at Liberty. . It then begins a new paragraph with 'Following the decision about Belmarsh...

Dear Mr. Hawkins

Following the decision about Belmarsh, I am deeply concerned that the Government plans to give itself the ability to place anybody under house arrest at the whim of the Home Secretary, without any possibility of due process. The essential message from the executive is "trust us".

Does the United Kingdom really wish to join the ranks of countries like Burma, South Africa during Apartheid, China or North Korea? This is a list upon which we should not seek to appear.

As Peter Hain has pointed out, house arrest was a counterproductive tactic for the South African government as it provided a focus for discontent. Quite apart from the appalling precedent set by a politician being able to "imprison" people without trial, the Government will be actively promoting the causes of the people they wish to restrain.

I would be extremely interested to hear your personal views on this matter.

I trust that both you and your party will strongly challenge the government's constant erosion of the legal protections which we have enjoyed in this country for many years. I fear that the Conservatives will tacitly support this move as they fear "being soft on terrorists". Whilst I appreciate that these are difficult issues, I would remind anyone taking that line that if there is evidence of such activity, then we already have powers in place to deal with the individual concerned in the form of the criminal courts.

Even during the 1980s, when IRA activity was at its height, the Government did not consider such a step.

Yours Sincerely

cc: Michael Howard MP, Shami Chakrabarti (director of Liberty)