On Nick Clegg scrapping control orders

January 7th, 2011 § 0 comments

The Deputy Prime Minister is going to scrap control orders… so we’re told…

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, today confirmed that the control order regime will be replaced by the coalition government, ending the “virtual house arrest” of terror suspects.

In a keynote London speech on civil liberties, Clegg said no final agreement had been reached by ministers on a replacement of the controversial control orders, which were introduced by the previous government.

Control orders are an abhorrent piece of legislation. They remove the right to a fair trial, they rely on a presumption of guilt, are a punishment for what someone might do rather than what one has done, they remove freedoms with no proof of any wrongdoing and are completely self-defeating.

They can be applied without a conviction because of what someone is saying or doing or who someone is associating with. To get a control order you don’t need to have done anything illegal, only to have done something that the state doesn’t like. I try not to invoke stuff like this, but it is truly Orwellian.

How one is supposed to go about getting a control order lifted I’ve no idea. How can you show that you’re voluntarily not going to do something unless given the chance not to do it?

If someone is suspected of plotting an illegal act, how does placing a control order help the situation? For a start, that person is given a heads up the the authorities are onto them. Secondly, the suspect may not carry out the act in the end. Wouldn’t it be better to let the suspect carry on and then when there is sufficient evidence to carry a prosecution, arrest them and then, well, prosecute them?

But Clegg isn’t going to get rid of control orders. He is only going to modify them…

While Clegg signalled that key elements would be reformed, he admitted that they would not be removed altogether because a “small number” of dangerous terror suspects could not be dealt with by the traditional justice system.

And these dangerous terror suspects were so dangerous that just going about their daily business was going to bring the country to it’s knees? These men may have their movements restricted and have a list of people they can’t talk to but if they are that dangerous, wouldn’t the counry be safer with them behind bars rather than out in public, albeit with certain restrictions?

How can someone not be dealt with by the traditional justice system? Why can anyone, no matter who, be labelled a criminal without actually having been found guilty of anything? Why not slap control orders on people to stop them talking to house burglars? After all one might get talking about various methods of house-breaking and it might give one ideas…

The only way to stop dangerous people is to put them on trial. How that is done, for example with intercept evidence, is another debate, but the fundamental right of a trial and innocent until proven guilty must be held onto. Like our life depends on it.

Modifying control orders is not enough. Nick Clegg needs to scrap them altogether.

Update: Robert Sharp at Liberal Conspiracy

[control orders are] a rude and obvious short-circuit of the very basic legal principles. If a Minister ‘knows’ that someone is a danger, then they should be charged and convicted. If there is not enough evidence to convict, then neither politicians, the police nor the general public get to use the word ‘know’ in their rhetoric. There simply is not the epistemological certainty for that kind of claim, especially not in the context of political arguments. A control order is an extreme form of accusation, and Deputy Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries must not be allowed to make such ‘accusations’ and leave them hanging.

As the Home Secretary conducts her review of control orders in the coming months, look out for examples of this rhetoric, “we know, but we cannot convict.” It is a half-formed argument, a question not an answer. It is a cowardly fudge for those who do not want to make the tough decision: do we let these suspects go, or do we allow phone-tapping evidence to be admissable in court? This is the issue at stake, and the phenomenon of control orders is simply a clever device for punting the decision. If Nick Clegg is really serious about restoring civil liberties to British citizens, then he and his Prime Minister need to stop using bad rhetoric, and start making tough choices.

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