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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Is the government right to detain suspects?
Protesters outside Belmarsh Prison
Nine Law Lords are considering a challenge in the House of Lords brought by nine foreign terror suspects against their detention without trial.

The panel will consider whether the government was right to suspend human rights obligations to a fair trial.

The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act allows foreign nationals to be imprisoned without trial if they are certified by the home secretary as a threat to national security, but cannot be sent home because they might face death or torture.

The government claims that the scale of the threat of terrorism justifies the move but human rights campaigners say that it denies the detainees their fundamental rights.

Is the government justified in suspending human rights obligations? Does the current war on terror make such a move acceptable? Or should all suspects have the same rights to a fair trial?

This debate has now closed. Thank you for your comments.


Your comments:

We are acting in our own best interests
Jeff Cable, Leighton Buzzard, England
If the weight of intelligence suggests that these people have strong links with forces that want to destroy our society, I think that if we lock them away (or if we deport them) then we are acting in our own best interests and making the only sane responses we can.
Jeff Cable, Leighton Buzzard, England

Whatever happened to 'innocent until proven guilty'? Our society is a mess, reform the government.
Kevin B, London, UK

Don't criticise governments for the harsh measures they, sometimes, employ to more effectively protect us, the innocent public, from direct terrorist attack. Remember, we are presently engaged in a war, a war triggered by the terrorists' cynical and callous acts.
Richard Napp, Newcastle upon Tyne, England

Who decides if these people are a threat? Our intelligence services and government ministers? We've seen the quality of their judgements - just look at their decision to take us to war. How can we trust them to deal with these suspects in a proper fashion? We need checks and balances and there's none at present.
Alan, Perth, Scotland

Our society changed on September 11th, we are facing a new threat unlike anything ever witnessed before and I completely agree with the detention of these people.
Gaynor Harrison, Reading

The problem is that many are innocent.
Phil, UK
The problem is that many are innocent. Look at those being released without charge from Cuba who have now spent years in prison having done nothing wrong. Unlike the US we have lived with terrorisom for 30+ years without resorting to such measures (or at least not for long). More people have been killed in the British Isles from terrorism than died on 9/11 so lets not get swept up in the same wave of paranoia that's hitting the US.
Phil, UK

Blind people don't have the right to drive. People with highly contagious deadly diseases don't have the right to roam free. And people associated with terrorism shouldn't have the right to travel abroad spreading their poison (literally or otherwise.)
Ray Gray, London, England

Detaining people indefinitely on the suspicion that they may be in some way connected with terrorism seems unjust. As far as we know the evidence may be as flimsy as the word of one individual against another. It is worrying that in many instances we are seeing people detained for months or years after which they are merely released. This does give one the feeling that these people were innocent. There is also the question of whether this style of detention actually constitutes torture, albeit mental torture.
Paul, Belgium

There is nothing in the European Convention on Human Rights that prevents the state from detaining dangerous people. Indeed, in the Osman v UK case, it was established that if the state knows a person poses a risk to the life of others, it must detain them. What is at issue here is not whether the state should do this, but the lack of due process and the use of penal settings to hold people who have not committed a crime.
Tim Watkins, Cardiff

No no no no no no NO! What separates civilized democracies from dictatorships is the knowledge that individuals have certain inviolable right. Certainly, detain terror suspects, but let a judge and jury make that decision.
Mike, Carmarthen, UK.

All human beings have the right to a fair trial
Pancha Chandra, Brussels, Belgiume
All human beings have the right to a fair trial whatever the nature of the crime in a court of law. Once they have been judged fairly they should face the consequences of their actions. British justice has all along been reputed to be fair. So let us keep it that way! Depriving terrorist suspects of a fair trial is like a kangaroo court and this form of justice has no pride of place especially in the 21st century.

The declaration of human rights is a highly cherished code of ethical conduct. By suspending human rights obligations we are in danger of regressing into a dictatorship. The nine foreign terror suspects should be given a fair trial and should be tried in a British court of law. They should not be denied their fundamental rights. The barbaric precedent of Guantanamo where detainees were shackled, caged and detained without trial by the Americans should never be repeated again. We should uphold justice in a humane way.
Pancha Chandra, Brussels, Belgium

Yes, the Government is justified on this action. The World has changed since 9/11 and for the security of our Country, the "Do-Gooders"can take a back seat on this issue. Dave H, UK.
Dave Harding, Abingdon, England, U/K

Some pro rights comments seem to have lost the plot here! It is not about detaining ordinary criminals without rights, it is about detaining known radicals who's political agenda is mass terrorisation of a nation they don't think very highly off.
Mitchell, UK

History has shown with monotonous consistency that governments who detain without trial on the basis of secret evidence not only have no evidence to support the detention, in most cases the detainees are innocent and are only being detained to hide the evidence of their abuse or torture by the government.
Ralph Williams, Cambridge UK

Much as it galls me to agree with anything David Blunkett is responsible for, this time I believe the Home Secretary is justified in his actions. These men, are, indeed, free to leave prison. They're just not free to wander around the country if they choose to. As a sovereign nation, Britain still has the right to choose who can and cannot cross its borders. Had their past actions not classified them as a risk in the first place, this question would never have been raised.
Ian, Brit in USA

Open-ended detention without trial is a victory for the terrorists
Michael Williamson, Leipzig, Germany
The right to a fair trial and the assumption of innocence until proven guilty are two of the main foundations of a civilised society. If these people are accused of committing crimes, they must receive legal counsel, a fair trial and a judgement either of guilty or not guilty. Those not brought to trial and those found not guilty must be released. Open-ended detention without trial is a victory for the terrorists. They've made us start giving up the basic rights at the core of our society.
Michael Williamson, Leipzig, Germany, Brit-ex pat

International terrorism knows no bounds for committing atrocities, therefore exceptional security actions are necessary to protect the public
Roy Crittall, Hemel Hempstead

Both France and Germany have recently deported a handful of militant clerics who were inciting violence. Despite claims by the clerics that they faced death back home and despite the European Human Rights Act that allegedly prohibits returning people to face execution they were quickly deported with no appeals. Why can't we do the same?
Peter, Nottingham

The government is fully justified in detaining them. Did the innocent 9/11 victims and all the other victims of their terror networks, have any rights or had a chance to challenge anything - no. So why should any of the suspected terrorists be given rights?
Lionel, NPB, USA

My understanding is that most of these people have entered the UK illegally. If there is enough evidence of terrorist intent they should receive a trial, if not (and they can't be deported back to their native country) then they should be put back to the country they were in immediately prior to illegally entering the UK.
John Dodds, Edinburgh, Scotland

I think that detaining suspects without trial puts any democratic government at the same level as the terrorists they're fighting.
Jeff, Macon, GA, USA

The cloak and dagger secrecy is what is causing so much concern
Duncan, Salisbury, UK
There must be a good reason for detaining these people. If the government was more open about why they have detained these people then it would be easier to justify their captivity. The cloak and dagger secrecy is what is causing so much concern.
Duncan, Salisbury, UK

Like it or not, the nation is at war and its very survival is at stake. Every government will come to the conclusion that under such difficult circumstances, the failure to take all possible measures to protect its citizens even to the point of temporary suspension of rights is suicidal. The real failure in countries like Britain and The United States is the unwillingness of the government to outright declare war legalising such actions on the pretence that everything is normal. Everything is not normal, far from it.
Mark, USA

In an ideal world, the government would be able to suit everybody. In the real world, national security must take priority over the 'fundamental rights' of terrorist suspects.
Andy Bird, Cheshire, UK

I can see that it may on occasion be necessary to detain suspects without revealing evidence that may pose a threat to national security... but three YEARS? Surely it would be possible to introduce some method of holding a trial 'in camera'; where legal advisors, independent observers and judges all operate under the auspices of the Official Secrets Act. Special rules of evidence might need to apply. That wouldn't satisfy everyone but would surely be better than indefinite incarceration. Having such a process would also allow for a statute of limitations on the length of time it was possible to hold a terror suspect without trial.
Jarrad Harries, Bristol, UK

Our grandparents fought to keep this country fair, free and democratic
Stephen, Sheffield, UK
No matter what the circumstances we should never hold anyone without a fair trial. Our grandparents fought to keep this country fair, free and democratic - We should stick to our morals and either find the evidence to convict these people or deport them.
Stephen, Sheffield, UK

It is one of the basic tenets of civil democratic society that no one is detained long without trial. It is all very well saying that 'these people' are potentially dangerous - the point is that if there is enough evidence to determine that, there should be enough evidence to put them on trial and prove it. The government says that they know the truth, but they can't tell us - that's the start of a very slippery slope.
Katherine, London, UK

There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that allows these people to stay in this country and waste our taxpayers' money playing the legal system. In the absence of any internment policy, those involved in such activities should be fast-tracked through the legal system. Why wait for them to decide they have had enough and want to leave? Why waste taxpayers' money on their challenge? Put them on a plane to wherever they came from and have done with it!
Andy D, Oxford, UK

When you genuinely believe in a principle there is no room for expedient get-out clauses, however compelling they might seem. Times of stress are the worst at which to make the judgements, it is all too easy to find excuses for throwing away your principle.
John, Fleet, UK

This law runs contrary to human rights legislation
Fraser Irving, Sheffield, UK
Without sufficient evidence it would be wrong to detain any suspect. This law runs contrary to human rights legislation and should be removed from the statute book. Britain has historically set high standards for the protection of all individuals' rights. Sadly this law is too pre-emptive and nasty. Whatever happened to democracy?
Fraser Irving, Sheffield, UK

To detain people without trial for something the authorities think they may do, is wrong. It is the closest example of Orwell's idea of "Thought Crime" and cannot continue unchallenged. If the evidence is there, then have a trial.
Matthew, Leeds, UK

The big difference between those being held in Belmarsh, and those being held by the US in Cuba, is that these people are free to leave any time they want to, they just have to exit the UK. The Government must have enough information on them to deem them a potential threat to the security of the country, but I suspect not enough to secure a conviction in a court of law at this time.
David Holder, Aldershot, Hampshire, UK

This is a very slippery slope. We're told that these people have to be detained because of evidence that cannot be disclosed to the public. Unfortunately, this Government, and for that matter the intelligence services, have shown that much of the 'evidence' they claim to have, e.g. WMD in Iraq, is suspect. How can we be confident that innocent people are not being illegally imprisoned? There, but for the grace of God....
John, UK, Northwich

The best way to protect us against terrorism is to reform the security services
Philip Adams, London, UK
The Butler and Hutton Inquiries showed the scale of incompetence in our security services. The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act is simply a measure to prevent the security services from having to embarrass themselves further in the courts. Rather than arbitrarily locking up foreign nationals, the best way to protect us against terrorism is to reform the security services.
Philip Adams, London, UK

These nine foreign terror suspects who are being detained in Belmarsh are free to leave this country at any time. So lets save a lot of time and money and send them home.
Michael Nassau, Colburn, North Yorkshire.

If our government cannot act to protect us against these foreign terrorists then sooner or later the British people will start taking the law into their own hands. Is that what those who oppose these detentions really want?
Lee Harries, UK

I don't see any of the terrorists thinking about our human rights when they carry out their attacks, so I think it stands to reason that if there is information to justify detaining an individual who is a threat then so be it.
Sarah, UK

Those who are innocent do not deserve this at all
Zak Isa, Mainz, Germany
People can argue that these laws are required for our protection against terrorism. Will the same people go into prison with a smile on their face if they were wrongly arrested and detained unconditionally? Remember, those who are innocent do not deserve this at all.
Zak Isa, Mainz, Germany

If the Government has enough evidence to detain them, then it should have enough evidence to try them in court or to send back to their country of origin.
Alan, Cardiff, Wales, UK

If the evidence is serious enough, it should warrant a trial. Why stop at terrorism then, "I suspect you will rob a bank so I will imprison you until you can convince me you weren't"? It starts an ugly precedence, especially if retaliatory measures are taken abroad.
A. Harrison, UK

During the Second World War we locked up as a precaution people who were rightly described as "hostile aliens". I have no difficulty with this at all, only that we haven't locked up enough!
Chris Green, Hagley, Worcs, England

We are at war. Of course we have to detain potential threats. And we don't want them sent home with their information ready to plot against us more. Wake up! These people want the end of our civilisation and freedoms. They sneer at bleeding heart liberals who will be first to go if they succeed in their aims.
CAM, London

Recognition of basic human rights is what makes us civilised. Detention without trial or at least without some degree of proof is the start of a slippery trend towards a lack of respect for other human beings which can only lead to a new Dark Age. Personal moral standards reflected in just laws will do more to protect us than a spurious war on terror based on lies and unjust policies.
John M, Lyne Meads, UK

I can understand that in the current climate we search, arrest and detain people somewhat arbitrarily. I don't like it, but I understand it. But holding people without trial for three years..? There is no justification for that.
Wendy, UK

Detaining suspects with good reason will cause a minor inconvenience to the suspect and possibly prevent major damage in the form of a terrorist attack. It is not just the civil rights of the suspect at stake, it is also the civil rights of law-abiding citizens to have their life and limb protected from untoward harm in these torrid times.
Des Currie, Umdloti, South Africa

Yes they are right in detaining suspected terrorists, but, they are obviously working from a source of information to detain these people in the first place... If this is the case then why is it taking them so long to make a case against them??? I think a time limit should be imposed which would make whoever is investigating the cases get a move on and either prove or disprove the allegations one way or another....
Don, Somerset, UK

It is just a matter of time before all citizens will be subject to the same security checks
Peter A, UK
Britain has slowly started introducing draconian laws at restricting freedoms and human rights, while sneaking in more information monitoring schemes. These have largely been aimed at foreign nationals, but are gradually making their way across to UK citizens, especially since this anti-terrorism law now applies to "dual nationality" citizens. It is just a matter of time before all citizens will be subject to the same security checks, fingerprinting, and surveillance. These anti-terrorist laws have already been abused by the authorities when they tried to break up a demonstration against weapons sales, and they are very likely to be abused again. To imprison someone for several years, without legal aid or being charged, is not part of what makes Britain Great.
Peter A, UK

The idea of wrongfully imprisoning people doesn't sit comfortably with me, I admit, but I think that the need to maintain the security of the nation in the face of an unconventional enemy dictates that sometimes these steps must be taken and the freedoms and rights of some individuals must be limited to protect the majority.
Jonathan, London, UK

Orwell wrote a book about a Britain similar to the one we live in now. Lock up potential terrorists by all means but make sure everyone has a fair trial. We exported this system to the world, we should at least adhere to it ourselves
Ed, London, UK

There is under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act provision to detain people for no more than 36 hours unless they are charged. Extensions of that must be sanctioned by a Magistrate. I believe that this is sufficient and I do not think that terrorist laws actually produce anything of any value.
Tony, Welling Kent

The government is damned if it does detain them and damned if they doesn't! Personally I think they are justified.
TC, Norwich, England




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