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UK government proposes revised control order policy

UK Home Secretary Theresa May [official profile] addressed Parliament [official website] on Wednesday to announce proposed changes [press release] to the country's anti-terrorism policies, including the controversial use of control orders [Guardian backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Control orders, created by the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2005 (PTA) [text], impose a variety of legal restrictions on individuals suspected of terrorism-related activity, regardless of the suspect's citizenship status or whether he or she has been convicted of any wrongdoing. May described [text] the existing policy as "draconian," saying:

We are also clear that the current control order regime is imperfect and has not been as effective as it should be. We therefore propose to repeal control orders. Instead, we will introduce a new package of measures which is better focused and has more targeted restrictions, supported by significantly increased resources for surveillance and other investigative tools. Restrictions that have an impact on an individual's ability to lead a normal life should be the minimum necessary, should be proportionate and should be clearly justified. The legislation we will bring forward will make clearer what restrictions can and cannot be imposed.
Under the revised system, suspects may be detained without charges for a maximum of 14 days as opposed to the current 28, though the government may seek an extension under emergency circumstances; new restrictions governing law enforcement's use of its stop and search authority will be imposed; and the use of police surveillance will be limited to investigating offenses carrying a minimum six month prison sentence. Additionally, those subject to the revamped control orders would be afforded greater freedoms than under the current system, though specifics are not yet available. The forthcoming legislation, if approved by Parliament, will be permanent unlike the PTA which requires annual renewal.

In their current form, restrictions can include curfews, limits on internet access, restrictions on travel, and limitations on employment, school, access to bank accounts and contact with other people. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] issued a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] in August calling for an end to the use of control orders against terrorism suspects, characterizing the orders as legal sanctions without trial. A month prior, the UK Court of Appeal [official website] ruled [judgment, text; JURIST report] that two terrorism suspects could sue the government for damages over wrongfully imposed control orders. In June The UK Supreme Court in ruled [JURIST report] that a control order requiring an anonymous appellant to live 150 miles from his family and operate under a 16-hour curfew violated his rights under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) [text]. In September 2009, then-Home Secretary Alan Johnson [BBC profile] said the government would undertake a review [JURIST report] of the system. The UK Law Lords ruled in October 2007 that the government may continue to impose control orders [JURIST report] on terror suspects in lieu of detention, but said that some elements of the orders violate human rights.

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