Control Orders to be scrapped?

Control orders could be scrapped”, reads the Telegraph’s p2 headline today, putting them in strong contention for the Amnesty press office’s ‘bearers of good news’ award of the day – particularly as they also report that China is thinking of scrapping it’s appalling ‘Re-education through labour’ system too.

Sadly the Control Orders news isn’t quite as clear as it sounds – it’s merely a report on Home Secretary Teresa May’s announcement of the coalition government’s wide-ranging review of counter-terrorism powers. But the  language in the Telegraph article sounds very encouraging: May is “looking at correcting the ‘mistakes’ made by the Labour government in creating terrorism legislation that was allowed to ‘ride roughshod’ over civil liberties,” they report.

Control Orders are an affront to human rights and Amnesty has campaigned against them since their introduction in 2005. They give the government sweeping powers to restrict people’s liberty using a mixture of curfews, electronic tagging, reporting requirements, and controls on movement, communications and association. The wife of one man who was subjected to a Control Order told Amnesty about these restrictions and their impact on the family:

“…I tried to remain hopeful many times. But there is no hope. There is no court hearing for my husband, so that he can profess his innocence. He has been charged of no crime, he has not been interviewed or interrogated….

“…He had to wear an electronic tag around his ankle. He had to report by telephone by special equipment that had been placed in our home several times a day (including during the middle of the night). Our children were not allowed to use the internet or have a computer. Their education has suffered and they have not been able to complete homework…. My husband was re-arrested for alleged breaches of his control order, once for having a Nintendo Wii, a gift for our children from his solicitor….

“…We were not allowed visitors unless they had been cleared by the home office having to go through a rigorous vetting procedure. Many of them would not even call for fear of being harassed by the police or worse. We as a family are dead! We are sick to death with the police and the government’s torture of our family. "

And all this on the basis of secret intelligence that the ‘controlee’ can’t see or challenge. The Control Order regime rides roughshod (to borrow the Home Secretary’s phrase) over the basic right to a fair trial. And the impact on the people subject to Control Orders, not to mention their families, can be devastating.

We want people who believe in basic human rights to voice their opposition to Control Orders, using the ‘Your Freedom’ website that the government recently set up to capture public opinions on laws that conflict with their freedoms. You can add your support to our “Abolish Control Orders for good” proposal, here.

You’ll need to register with your name, password and email address and then rate the idea as highly as you feel appropriate. The site has come in for some flak since its inception – you can read Richard Wilson’s very measured look at its pros and cons here – but we hope that a big show of support will make the government sit up and listen.

The Telegraph reports that “Ms May said she wanted a counter-terrorism regime that is ‘proportionate, focused and transparent” and ‘in keeping with Britain’s traditions of freedom and fairness.’” Abolishing Control Orders for good would be an important step in this direction.

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