Foreign detainees win human rights appeal in Lords

The UK's highest court, the Law Lords, have ruled that detaining foreign nationals without trial is in contravention of European human rights laws.

In an eight to one majority ruling, the Law Lords decision is a severe blow to the Government's Anti-terrorisn, Crime and Security Act.

Most of the detainees held under UK anti-terrorism legislation are housed in Belmarsh Prison, which has been described by human right activists as the UK's "Guantanamo Bay".

Freshly installed today in the post of Home Secretary, Charles Clarke was adamant that the legal measures would remain in force and the men would be detained in prison pending a review of the law.

Mr Clarke, in his first test as Home Secretary, told the House of Commons that the legislation would be renewed in the New Year, possibly with modifications to address the issues raised by the House of Lords.

However, lawyers for the detainees have called for the immediate release of those being held without trial and for the Act to be repealed by Parliament.

The case of the detainees was taken to the House of Lords when the Court of Appeal found that the Home Office could detain the men indefinitely without charge. However, today's majority ruling by the Law Lords has reversed that ruling and leaves the Government faced with the prospect of being taken to court under the terms of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Senior Law Lord, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, in his ruling said that the legislation was "incompatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights "in the way it discriminates on the grounds of nationality or immigration status".

Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead in his ruling said: "Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law".

Lord Hoffman went as far as suggesting that the legislation in the UK Government Act was a bigger threat than terrorism. He said: "This is one of the most important cases which the House has had to decide in recent years. It calls into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country has until now been very proud: freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention".

Because of the high constitutional importance placed on the outcome of ruling, a special sitting of nine Law Lords, rather than the usual five, reviewed the arguments brought in the case that was first brought before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in 2002.

A Court of Appeal ruling, in favour of the Government, said there was a "state of emergency" overturning the Commission's finding that the men were being discriminated against.


Related UK National News Stories
Click here for the latest headlines.

03 April 2003
Greater trans-Atlantic cooperation on law and order
Following the Home Secretary's visit to the US, the government has revealed new measures signalling a greater degree of trans-Atlantic cooperation over criminal justice and national defence. Earlier today, David Blunkett and the Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine today announced plans to support the development of US-style community courts in Britain.
13 October 2005
Hunting ban upheld by House of Lords
The Countryside Alliance has failed in its bid to challenge the legality of the ban on hunting with dogs. The countryside campaigners had argued that the Hunting Act was invalid, because it had been pushed through Parliament using the 1949 Parliament Act, which they said was not legal.
08 December 2005
Lords reject torture evidence
The Law Lords have ruled that evidence obtained under torture may not be used against terror suspects. The ruling, viewed as a blow to the government, has important implications in cases where evidence might have been obtained in this manner from other countries.
08 December 2005
DVT victims lose Lords appeal case
The House of Lords has ruled that deep vein thrombosis (DVT) victims may not seek compensation from airlines. The test case for eight victims and their families had sought the right to sue airlines for DVT, but the Law Lords have ruled that the airlines are only liable for accidents and that DVT does not fall into this category.
21 June 2007
Human Rights Act fails to cover private care
Due to a legal loophole a ruling by the House of Lords has left over 300,000 elderly people with no protection against eviction from private care nursing homes.