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UK Law Lords rule against use of secret evidence to impose control orders

[JURIST] A panel of nine UK Law Lords [official website] decided [judgment, PDF] Wednesday that the use of secret evidence to impose controversial control orders to detain terrorism suspects violates the European Convention on Human Rights [text], ordering the cases of three suspects to be reheard. The Lords held that a fair trial is not possible where a case is decided largely on unavailable materials, reasoning that suspects should know the extent of the allegations against them. The ruling was influenced by a February European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] decision [text], which held that, even where there are national security interests, it may not be acceptable to withhold evidence that forms the grounds for suspicion in a terrorism-related case. Before the ECHR ruling, exigent national security interests could justify the withholding of relevant evidence where other measures were taken to ensure a fair trial.

Control orders allow the British government to conduct surveillance and impose house arrest on suspects where there does not exist enough evidence to prosecute. The orders can also be used to forbid the use of mobile phones and the Internet. In February, a UK counter-terrorism official said that some suspects living under control orders have managed to maintain contact [JURIST report] with terrorist organizations. Control orders were first introduced [JURIST report] by the government of former prime minister Tony Blair in 2005 and, apart from being politically controversial, have already run into problems in the courts [JURIST report]. The UK Law Lords ruled [JURIST report] in a series of decisions in October that the government can continue to impose control orders on terror suspects in lieu of detention, but said that some elements of the orders issued under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 violate human rights.

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