By Robin Simcox
It took a long time for them to get there, but the government has by and large got it right on control orders. The system will remain until 2011, and even then the fundamentals that make control orders vital – the electronic tagging, the ban on foreign travel, the prohibition from meeting other terrorist suspects – will all remain. In the face of the terrorist threat, the government could not credibly sweep the system away entirely.
Furthermore, some of the modifications the government has made to the control order system are only cosmetic. For example, 16-hour curfews being replaced with a mandatory overnight residency lasting 10 hours amounts to essentially no change at all. Some terrorist suspects are not under curfew at all as it is and, under the current system, the average curfew time for controlees was already 10 hours.
However, praise on the Government's decision should only be qualified. It is the nature of coalition governments that compromise will be the norm. However, there was something especially pertinent about Yvette Cooper's comment in the Evening Standard this week that 'this Review should be about keeping people safe in their homes, not keeping Nick Clegg safe in his job'. There has also been some truth in Labour's accusations that national security concerns being played out in the press – with briefings and counter-briefings over the future of control orders rampant over the last couple of months – is unedifying and not worthy of HM government.
It is also worth a reminder as to why this debate was happening at all. Control orders were only introduced because deporting certain foreign national security threats risked contravening the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (Article 3 – prohibition of torture). Such individuals were then detained at Belmarsh prison until that too violated the ECHR, under Article 5 (right to liberty) and Article 14 (prohibition from discrimination). As long as we are determined to strictly adhere to the ECHR in the way we treat our terrorist suspects, some form of control order remain essentially the only option we have left.
These are fundamental issues that successive governments have refused to deal with. It is time that they started. Because until they do not, the conditions that make control orders vital are here to stay.