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Terror suspects on control orders abscond

Commentary, 24 May 2007
Terrorism, Europe
Whether you are subject to a control order or are being hounded publicly for absconding from one, your personal liberties are somewhat curtailed. We ought to try to think creatively about how we increase the use of normal legal process.

Whether you are subject to a control order or are being hounded publicly for absconding from one, your personal liberties are somewhat curtailed. We ought to try to think creatively about how we increase the use of normal legal process.

Control Orders were first introduced under anti-terror legislation in 2005 and have never been far from the headlines since. They may be made against a person suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activity, whether a UK national or not, and whether the terrorist activity is domestic or international.

There is a general consensus that it is desirable for the normal legal process, involving a charge and trial, to be used wherever possible for those suspected of terrorist or terrorist-related activity. However, control orders can be used when it is not possible to bring formal charges or if there is a risk that deportation would result in persecution or torture on return to their home countries.

Although this is not the first time suspects have absconded from control orders it is the first time that the police have released the names and pictures.

They say Lamine Adam, 26, his brother Ibrahim, 20, and Cerie Bullivant, 24, have been missing for more than 24 hours and may be together. They have also released the fact that they were subject to orders because they were suspected of wanting to travel abroad ‘for terrorism-related purposes’.

So why have the police chosen to take the unprecedented step of releasing the details of these three? Are they more dangerous than anyone who has absconded before?

The Home Secretary cannot impose a control order unless he can be satisfied that the person in question poses some form of risk to the security of the nation. Ergo – if the person has absconded and no longer subject to control then they must pose a risk. Couple with this the fact that the police have taken the unprecedented step of releasing details and asking the public for help it is hard not to come to the conclusion they must pose a significant risk.

Or is it that simple?

There is clearly a risk of people absconding from control orders. As the Home Secretary stated with respect to the latest abscondees ‘Unfortunately under these limitations, within the existing legal framework, it is very difficult to prevent determined individuals from absconding.’ But whether they pose a risk or not depends on what they can achieve whilst free – and that might be limited.

When reviewing control orders earlier this year Lord Carlile of Berriew Q.C. stated ‘It is plainly doubtful that any well-organized terrorism cell would wish to rely in a significant way on someone who is being sought by police internationally, so the absconders probably present little risk provided that they are sought diligently.’

So perhaps the very public police interest in these three does not point to the fact that they pose a greater risk than any of the other abscondee or person whose control order has lapsed but more to the fact that by creating such public hype and awareness makes the abscondees deeply unattractive to terrorist networks – thus significantly reducing the risk they pose.

However, whether you are subject to a control order or are being hounded publicly for absconding from one, your personal liberties are somewhat curtailed. Therefore we ought to try to think creatively about how we increase the use of normal legal process.

The usual reason stated for the need to use control orders is secrecy. The argument being that to expose the evidence in an open court of law would expose the intelligence agencies to unnecessary risk. Intelligence agencies are in the main trying to uncover what others are trying to conceal and they do not wish to expose sources, methods, resources or priorities. They have extraordinary powers but operate under a clear legal framework where bugging, interception of mail, stealing documents and bribery etc. are legal only where there is a pre-eminent threat to the state or its key institutions. Some of what they do is admissible as evidence in courts but there arise situations when there is credible ‘intelligence’ that someone may wish to carry out a terrorist activity but, for fear of exposing methods or putting operatives at risk this, intelligence cannot be exposed and used as ‘evidence’.

There is little doubt exposing the details of the very things that we use to protect national security would be foolhardy however, technology is moving at such a pace we have to be careful not to be over-cautious. The default position is generally ‘don’t reveal anything – just in case’ and the arguments tend to be about specifics, such as whether we allow the use of phone-tap evidence or not. But perhaps now is the time to take a strategic look at our collective intelligence methodologies and oversight structures and work out if, given the current threat situation, we may be able to make more intelligence admissible in court.

Dr Sandra Bell
Director, Homeland Security & Resilience Department, RUSI

 

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI

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