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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 June 2005, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
UK criticised over human rights
An armed officer outside Parliament
Anti-terror measures are criticised
Europe's human rights watchdog has criticised the way in which the UK treats terror suspects.

The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, says control orders violate basic rights - a claim ministers deny.

The measure effectively places a person under house arrest if the home secretary believes it is necessary.

But Mr Gil-Robles says proceedings are "inherently one-sided" and says only judges should authorise the orders.

His wide-ranging report also expressed concern about anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs), the asylum system and overcrowding in prisons.

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He said there should be some form of responsible screening of ASBO applications by a responsible authority to "guarantee against excessive use".

He cited the cases of an 87-year-old receiving an ASBO for being repeatedly sarcastic and a 17-year-old deaf girl for spitting.

But it was the recent introduction of control orders that particularly attracted his criticism.

The orders were brought in after law lords ruled that the previous system of indefinite detention for suspects without trial breached human rights laws.

The new powers means the home secretary can force a person to stay inside their home under curfew if he suspects them of supporting terrorism.

Other restrictions can include electronic tagging of suspects and bans on telephone or internet use.

Secret evidence

The courts do have a role in authorising control orders, but the grounds for a judge refusing an order are restricted.

In his report, Mr Gil-Robles said it did not seem to him that the "weak control" offered by judicial review proceedings satisfied the usual powers for what would be considered criminal charges.

Quite apart from the obvious flouting of the presumption of innocence, the review proceedings described can only be considered fair, independent and impartial with some difficulty
Alvaro Gil-Robles
Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights

"The proceedings, indeed, are inherently one-sided, with the judge obliged to consider the reasonableness of suspicions based, at least in part, on secret evidence, the veracity or relevance of which he has no possibility of confirming in the light of the suspect's response to them.

"Quite apart from the obvious flouting of the presumption of innocence, the review proceedings described can only be considered fair, independent and impartial with some difficulty."

Fair trials needed

Mr Gil-Robles said it was difficult to disguise the fact "that control orders are intended to substitute the ordinary criminal justice system with a parallel system run by the executive (i.e. politicians rather than judges)".

"Under normal circumstances such a step would not even be contemplated," he said.

What this report does suggest to me is the beginning of the end of the control orders
Mark Oaten
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman

The measures could only be made compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights if necessary judicial guarantees were applied to proceedings and there were regular parliamentary reviews of the legislation, he said.

The government has said it will examine these findings, however it does not believe the control orders do breach human rights.

It argued that the measures were protective and preventative, rather than punitive, and were designed to restrict or prevent the involvement of individuals in terrorism-related activity.

BBC Home Affairs correspondent Rory MacLean said: "Although the report is advisory rather than anything else it is likely to feed into a debate about anti- terrorism powers that is likely to be held in Parliament towards the end of the year."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said the report was a "serious wake up call to politicians who have rubbished notions of fairness and basic human dignity".

"There should be a full parliamentary debate into all the key recommendations," she said.

'Thinly researched'

Shadow home secretary David Davis said he wanted to see control orders reviewed and replaced by something that involved a proper judicial process.

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman, said he believed the report would spell "the beginning of the end" for control orders.

Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of the 2000 Anti Terrorism Act, said that while he thought the commissioner's report had given a "useful snapshot" on control orders, it was "fairly thinly researched".

He said he would be looking at some "tentative proposals" for new legislation on Thursday, while bearing in mind Mr Gil-Robles' report.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act, which introduced the control orders, was only approved by peers after a marathon debate on the powers earlier this year.

The commissioner explains why he is concerned

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