25 May 2007

Session 2006-07 Press Notice No.42

Control Orders

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has written to the Home Office today asking for a prompt clarification of what appears to be a clear disagreement between the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Justice, about whether human rights laws need to be changed in order to counter the threat from terrorism. It has also asked whether the Government now thinks there is a national emergency which would enable it to opt out from part of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In evidence to the Committee last Monday, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Lord Falconer told the Committee that he saw no need to alter the international human rights conventions because of terrorism "because I strongly believe that these instruments provide the basis whereby you can alter what your operational response is within the context..... I think we should be unequivocal in our commitment to these international instruments which set out our basic values". He said he did not think there were any gaps in the international human rights law framework which need to be filled to counter terrorism.

However at the G6 in Venice and in Parliament yesterday, the Home Secretary referred to what he considers to be gaps and inadequacies in the international human rights framework which make it difficult to counter the terrorist threat we now face. He also said that if the Government does not succeed in getting a different interpretation from the House of Lords in relation to the right to liberty in Article 5 ECHR in the appeals concerning control orders, the Government will consider other options, including derogating from that right. He referred to "the fact that the threat to the life and liberties of the people of this country is higher than ever before, and is at the level of a national emergency."

It has been the Government's consistent position since introducing the Bill which became Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 establishing the control order regime, that the UK does not face a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation" as defined in the ECHR and that the UK Government is therefore not entitled to derogate from the right to liberty in Article 5 ECHR. This was also the premise of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which enables the Government to derogate swiftly if conditions change. At no time during the two annual renewals of the control orders regime, in March 2006 and March 2007 (which the Committee has reported on), did the Government suggest that the level of the threat had changed so that the UK now faced a public emergency threatening the life of the nation. The Committee has therefore asked the Government whether its position is now that there is a public emergency threatening the life of the nation, and if so what material it relies on to show that the level of the threat has changed.

Andrew Dismore MP, Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said:

"It seems that Lord Falconer, the Secretary of State with responsibility for the Government's human rights policy, is at odds with the Home Secretary's analysis of the need to amend the European Convention on Human Rights, or other international human rights conventions, in order to be able to counter the threat from terrorism effectively.

"There is a clear contradiction between what we heard in evidence from the Secretary of State for Justice last Monday and what the Home Secretary has said to the G6 conference and in the Commons yesterday about the threat we face from terrorism and how we deal with it. The Minster for Justice clearly told us that he saw no need to alter our human rights conventions to respond to the threat of terrorism, which we all recognise is a real and pressing one. Yet days later the Home Secretary is saying that the Government might seek to do just that. On a matter of such importance it is essential that Parliament knows which represents the position of the Government, and we have written to the Home Secretary asking for a prompt clarification.

We would also like to know what has changed, or what if any new information has come to light, that would justify "emergency" measures such as derogating from the right to liberty." /ends

Ms Jessica Bridges-Palmer: 020 7219 0724/ 07917 488 447


Mr Andrew Dismore MP (Labour, Hendon) (Chairman)
Mr Douglas Carswell MP (Conservative, Harwich)
Mark Tami MP (Labour, Alyn & Deeside)
Nia Griffith MP (Labour, Llanelli)
Dr Evan Harris MP (Liberal Democrat, Oxford West & Abingdon)
Mr Richard Shepherd MP (Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills)

The Earl of Onslow (Conservative)
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie (Conservative)
Lord Judd (Labour)
Lord Lester of Herne Hill (Liberal Democrat)
Lord Plant of Highfield (Labour)
Baroness Stern (Cross-Bencher)

Clerks of the Committee: Dr Mark Egan (House of Commons) 020 7219 2797 and Mr Bill Sinton (House of Lords) 020 7219 5358

ENQUIRIES: 020 7219 2797/2467 FAX: 020 7219 8393