Control orders what Teresa May didnt say

Control Orders will be scrapped from December 2011, and replaced with the catchily-named “T-Pims”, Terrorism prevention and investigation measures – that’s the long-awaited news from Home Secretary Teresa May today. It comes as a result of the Counter-Terrorism review, which looked at six key UK counter-terrorism measures.

There are some positive developments. Some of the worst excesses of the control order regime will be curbed, such as 16-hour curfews (replaced by ‘overnight residence requirements’) and the ‘internal exile' of forced relocation, whereby people could be uprooted from their family, friends and support networks and banished to another town or city. Controlees will also be able to have mobile phones and internet access (and the security services will have their passwords).

But what Teresa May didn’t announce was a fundamental overhaul to the problem at the heart of the control order regime: the question of whether people get a right to a fair hearing, to challenge the (very serious) allegation that they’re a suspected terrorist.

We’re still examining the detail of the proposals and there will be more to come later on. There is a mention of changes to the standard of evidence required, with a more stringent requirement that the authorities have “reasonable belief” that someone is involved in terrorism before a control order can be imposed. There will also be changes to the way that special advocates operate – the security cleared lawyers who have access to secret intelligence but can’t disclose it to their clients – but these changes will only take place following a further consultation next year on the use of intelligence evidence in courts..

But I didn’t hear anything from Teresa May this afternoon that reassured me about this key issue.  I’ve been talking recently to Cerie Bullivant, who was subjected to a control order himself in 2006, until it was quashed by the High Court two years later, when Mr Justice Collins told the High Court that MI5 had shown "no reasonable suspicion" that Cerie was a security risk. He said one of the worst things about being on a control order is not knowing what the evidence is against you nor being able to challenge it. Being labelled a ‘suspected terrorist’ has some serious consequences in terms of how you’re viewed in your community and the impact on your ability to earn a livelihood.

If this basic issue isn’t addressed and people still don’t get the chance to challenge the allegations against them in a fair hearing, then the counter-terrorism review will have failed to deliver a significant improvement in human rights.

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