Joint Committee on Human Rights calls for control order scheme to be discontinued

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (‘the Joint Committee’) has released its report on the Annual Renewal of Control Order Legislation 2010, in which it heavily criticised the control order scheme. The scheme, introduced in 2005, allows courts to put terror suspects under restrictions resembling house arrest by placing them under curfews of up to 16 hours a day and, typically, constraints on their movements and communications. There were 12 suspects subject to control orders in December 2009.

Whereas the Joint Committee has previously criticised the scheme, this is the first time that it has recommended for it to be discontinued. The committee said:

We have serious concerns about the control order system. Evidence shows the devastating impact of control orders on the subject of the orders, their families and their communities. In addition detailed information is now available about the cost of control orders which raises questions about whether the cost the system is out of all proportion to the supposed public benefit. We find it hard to believe that the annual cost of surveillance of the small number of individuals subject to control orders would exceed the amount currently being paid to lawyers in the ongoing litigation about control orders. Finally, we believe that because the Government has ignored our previous recommendations for reform, the system gives rise to unnecessary breaches of individuals’ rights to liberty and due process.

Their conclusion was that control order regime is “no longer sustainable”, and that “a heavy onus rests on the Government to explain to Parliament why alternatives, such as intensive surveillance of the very small number of suspects currently subject to a control order, and more vigorous pursuit of the possibility of prosecution, are not now to be preferred.”

The Committee heard evidence from three special advocates, including the author, who had been involved in control order cases. The special advocates explained the various difficulties and issues which have arisen in the operation of the special advocate scheme in general and control order cases in particular.

The control order scheme has also come under scrutiny from the courts, most notably by the House of Lords in the AF case. In AF, a nine-member House of Lords held that it was a breach of the right to a fair trial under Article 6 to hold someone under a control order without sufficient information about the allegations against him even where the case against the “controlee” was based on closed materials, the disclosure of which would compromise the country’s national security.

Despite the Joint Committee’s criticism, however, the Government has renewed the scheme until 10 March 2011. In response, the Joint Committee have called for a full-scale review of terrorism legislation. The Government’s response to the report is due to be published shortly.

Read more:

  • Case comment on Secretary of State for the Home Department (Appellant) v (1) AF (2) AM (3) AN [2009] UKHL 28
  • Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights

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