Detention without charge

In the immediate aftermath of the horrific events in the US of 11 September, 2001, the UK Government immediately announced that it would amend existing terrorism legislation (even though it had been overhauled just a year earlier by the Terrorism Act 2000).

Exactly two months after the attacks in America, the UK Government introduced an Order announcing that, because of the threat of terrorism, it no longer intended to uphold the right to liberty under the European Convention on Human Rights in certain terrorism-related circumstances.

The Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 was introduced in Parliament on 12 November, 2001 as emergency legislation and rushed through Parliament in just over a month.

Part 4 of the Act allowed for a suspected international terrorist to be deported but, if that wasn’t possible (because, for example, the person would be tortured or killed if returned to their home country), a foreign national suspected of involvement in terrorism could be indefinitely imprisoned without charge or trial.

For three years, a group of men were detained in high security prisons and mental health institutions under this power - without ever knowing the suspicions that kept them there, let alone having been convicted of any offence.

They were appointed special security-cleared lawyers that had access to the information held about them, but not to the men themselves.

They were allowed their own lawyers, but these lawyers were not allowed to see the material about their clients.

This Kafkaesque situation was brought to an end after the House of Lords, in December 2004 (in a case Liberty intervened in), held that the indefinite detention of foreign nationals without charge was in breach of the right to liberty under the Human Rights Act.

The Court held that the Government’s Order announcing that the UK was not bound by the right to liberty was unlawful, as this could only be made in an emergency to the extent that is 'strictly necessary'. The fact that the law only locked up foreign nationals, and not British nationals who might also pose a threat to national security, demonstrated that these discriminatory measures were not strictly necessary. The Court then made a declaration of incompatibility, saying that the legislation was incompatible with the right to liberty under the Human Rights Act.

The Government's response to the judgment was to repeal Part 4 of the 2001 Act. However, it was initially replaced with the unsafe and unfair control order regime and, more recently, the almost-identical Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs).

Liberty has campaigned tirelessly, both in Parliament and in the courts, against indefinite detention without charge and the control order and TPIMs regimes. We believe that suspects should know the case against them, stand trial and, if found guilty, be imprisoned.

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