Liberty Seeks Clarity and Fairness in Terror-Asset Freezing Regime

06 October 2010

Liberty has proposed amendments to the highly complex and unfair British terror asset freezing regime, which is as intrusive and unfair as the notorious control orders regime.

The Terror-Asset Freezing etc. Bill, which is at Committee stage today in the House of Lords, seeks to put on a permanent footing the same system as that set out in orders which were struck down by the Supreme Court earlier this year for incompatibility with human rights law.

The system currently makes it an offence for banks and financial institutions to allow an individual or their family to access their funds unless the Treasury authorises it.  Financial institutions must consult up to four pieces of legislation to ensure that they are not prosecuted. Suspects under an order are obliged to account for every penny that they and their family spend without ever having been arrested or charged with any offence.

Asset freezing powers were used to freeze the assets of Icelandic banks operating in the UK in 2008.  This new Bill permits anyone to be added to a list of terror suspects at the discretion of the Treasury without any court involvement. On any appeal, a shadowy form of ‘justice’ will allow for secret evidence, closed hearings and the use of special advocates.  The parallel to the control order regime is disturbing.

In order to ensure that the regime is compliant with fundamental rights and traditional notions of British justice, Liberty and fellow human rights campaigning group Justice, propose:

  • that the regime is linked to the criminal justice system, and that a person can only have their assets frozen if criminal proceedings are in train;
  • that ‘reasonable belief’ of a person or organisation’s involvement in terrorism is required before an order is made;
  • that a court rather than the Treasury should designate a person or individual as one which can have its assets frozen.

Anita Coles, policy officer at Liberty, said:

“The Supreme Court made clear in January that this regime risks sweeping the innocent up with the guilty. We need to introduce fairness to this system and bring it in line with the rule of law without compromising national security.”

Contact: Liberty’s press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831 128

Notes to editors

  1. Follow the progress of the Terrorist Asset Freezing etc Bill in Liberty's Bill tracker
  2. Read Liberty’s joint Committee stage briefing with Justice at http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/pdfs/policy10/joint-liberty-justice-committee-briefing-on-terrorist-asset-freezing-lords-s.pdf
  3. The Supreme Court ruling of January 2010 can be found at http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2009_0016_Judgment.pdf
  4. Following the Supreme Court decision of January 2010, The Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Act 2010 was rushed through Parliament in the space of five days. Read Liberty’s briefing on the Bill at http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/pdfs/policy10/liberty-s-briefing-on-the-terrorist-asset-freezing-temporary-provisions-bill.pdf