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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
Crisis warning on terror verdict
Policeman at Westminster
Control orders are part of the anti-terrorism effort
The UK faces an emerging constitutional crisis after a judge quashed a key plank of the government's anti-terror laws, a leading Labour MP has said.

John Denham, chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, said judges were engaged in a battle with the elected Parliament.

It comes after the High Court said control orders, used to restrain terror suspects, broke human rights laws.

Ministers say they will challenge the ruling in the Court of Appeal.

Strict restrictions

Mr Justice Sullivan said control orders made against six men broke the European Convention on Human Rights rules on detention without trial.

The orders are imposed on people suspected of terrorism but where there is not enough evidence to put them on trial.

December 2004: Law lords say holding terror suspects without trial is unlawful
April 2006: High Court overturns first control order made, saying the suspect had not received a "fair hearing"
June 2006: Six control orders are quashed by the High Court for breaking European human rights laws

The men are banned from leaving their homes for 18 hours a day, cannot use mobile phones or the internet, and their visitors have to give the authorities personal details and photos in advance.

The judge said the home secretary had no power to make the orders and they must therefore all be quashed.

"Their liberty to live a normal life within their residences is so curtailed as to be non-existent for all practical purposes," he said.

Surveillance choices

Mr Denham said judges in other European countries gave more weight than the British courts when Parliament made carefully considered decisions in the public interest.

"There is a bit of a constitutional crisis emerging here about the way in which the judges and the courts approach these issues," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The government can get the UK an opt-out from parts of the European Convention of Human Rights if there is a national emergency - but this is something ministers have wanted to avoid.

If the Court of Appeal struck down control orders, Mr Denham said he thought the men would go back into the "pool of people we are concerned about".

"The security services will take very difficult decisions about who not to keep an eye on," he said.

"Let's just hope they choose the right people and not the wrong people."

'Breathless language'

However, the Lib Dems' spokesman on home affairs, Nick Clegg, said Mr Denham's criticism - or "yet another attack on our judiciary", as he described it - was "the last thing we need".

"It does neither the cause of human rights nor the fight against terrorism any good when politicians use breathless language to describe a court ruling before the full facts are available," he said.

"This is not a constitutional crisis, but a ruling on the specific scope and severity of six control orders.

"The government has every opportunity now to adjust the specific terms of those control orders... to meet the terms of the ruling."

Meanwhile human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC denied Britain was on the verge of a constitutional crisis.

Judges were doing their job of judging whether laws were compatible with human rights, he said.

The government wanted to lock up people it thought were suspects and "subversives", he said.

"We cannot tolerate a society in which a government is allowed that view untrammelled," said Mr Mansfield.

Natalia Garcia, who represented two of the people placed under control orders, said: "It is heartening that the courts will still act as a check against the government when it seeks to ride roughshod over the basic human rights and civil liberties."

Government appeal

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said the government would try to overturn the ruling in the Court of Appeal.

"We do really seriously feel that the interest of public safety far outweighs the rights of particular individuals who are incredibly dangerous but there's not that evidential base there."

The appeal hearings had initially been expected to take place next Monday, but the Home Office has now said they are likely to take place in the autumn.

Next Monday there is an appeal against a separate high court judgement in April, involving an individual known as MB, which ruled that the process for reviewing control orders breached the right to a fair trial included in the European Convention on Human Rights.

A Home Office spokesman said the two appeals had been confused. The government has seven days to lodge an appeal and ask the Court of Appeal to extend the control orders until it is heard.

For the Conservatives, shadow home secretary David Davis said the government had ignored his warnings that this could happen.

Deportation fears

Control orders were only introduced after the law lords said the previous regime of detaining terrorism suspects without trial was unlawful.

They were originally imposed on most of the men who were held without charge at London's Belmarsh prison.

Two of the Belmarsh detainees were returned to Algeria this month after giving up their appeals against deportation.

Others have been taken off control orders and arrested under deportation rules.

The government's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, says he has "real concern" about detaining such people who cannot in practice be deported at the moment.

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