[JURIST] The UK Supreme Court [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF; press release, PDF] Wednesday that executive orders allowing the government to freeze the assets of suspected terrorists are illegal. The five men involved in the court's inaugural case [JURIST report] argued that the government exceeded its power when the Treasury Department [official website] froze their assets without the approval of Parliament. They are accused by the British government of terrorism offenses, but have not been formally charged by any court. Justice Lord Hope said the orders, which can be extended indefinitely, are unduly burdensome on those accused of links to terrorism:
The consequences of the Orders that were made in this case are so drastic and so oppressive that we must be just as alert to see that the coercive action that the Treasury have taken really is within the powers that [Parliament] has given them. Even in the face of the threat of international terrorism, the safety of the people is not the supreme law. We must be just as careful to guard against unrestrained encroachments on personal liberty.
The court found that the government exceeded its authority by allowing Treasury to freeze assets based solely on "reasonable suspicion" of involvement in terrorist activity, and by not providing for judicial review of the seizures.
The Supreme Court's ruling affirms a 2008 High Court ruling [JURIST report], which found that the Treasury Department may not freeze the assets of the five suspected terrorists without the approval of Parliament. The seizures were conducted pursuant to two Orders in Council [backgrounder], the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2006 and the Al Qaeda and Taliban (United Nations Measures] Order 2006 [texts]. The orders implemented UN resolutions requiring UN member states to freeze the assets of people on a UN list of suspected al Qaeda and Taliban associates [UN materials]. The High Court rejected the orders because they were not subject to parliamentary scrutiny before they came into force.