The unlawful detention of individuals suspected of terrorist activity is central to this collective appeal amidst the unprecedented attacks of September 11th 2001 in New York, when in light of this historic event the United Kingdom took swift measures to derogate from their commitment to the Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Human Rights Act 1998.
Following a number of arrests, there were nine men of various nationalities detained under s.23 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. In order to facilitate such action the Home Secretary had worked closely with Parliament to both execute and enact Part 4 of the 2001 Act, which provided powers to issue freezing orders upon those suspected of threats to the stability or security of the country. To further support this measure, statutory instrument SI/2001/3644 (also known as the ‘Derogation Order’) was drafted as to allow for specific actions peripheral to the Human Rights Act 1998 where those suspected were subject to the terms of the 2001 Act.
Prior to this amendment it was only possible under para.2(2) of sch.3 of the Immigration Act 1971 for the Secretary of State to detain non-British nationals while awaiting deportation, and such action was only deemed justifiable for a reasonable period of time, as this allowed the United Kingdom to remain fully compliant with its obligations to the ECHR, in particular art.5(1) (Right to liberty and security). However, in Chahal v United Kingdom Parliament attempted to circumvent art.3 of the Convention (No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) in order to excessively detain and deport a Sikh separatist on grounds of an affiliation to terrorism, but were overruled by the EU Commission on democratic principles.
In this instance the appellants were challenging the derogation from ECHR principles for the purposes of detainment and deportation of foreign nationals, on grounds that the United Kingdom was not in a state of public emergency as required by art.15(1) of the Convention, and that further clarification of that article had been found in The Greek Case, where the Commission had explained that:
“Such a public emergency may then be seen to have, in particular, the following characteristics: (1) It must be actual or imminent. (2) Its effects must involve the whole nation. (3) The continuance of the organised life of the community must be threatened. (4) The crisis or danger must be exceptional, in that the normal measures or restrictions, permitted by the Convention for the maintenance of public safety, health and order, are plainly inadequate.”
It was thus contended that none of the above elements were visible when derogating from the ECHR and applying the terms of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 in order to both arrest and detain the appellants, and further noted that recent ministerial statements indicated that the United Kingdom was under no immediate threat, and so while alert to international attacks they had no evidence to suggest otherwise.
Having considered the voluminous evidence provided by both sides, and the decision taken by the Court of Appeal, the House of Lords reemphasised the course of action taken by the Secretary of State, who had countered that failure to adopt a pre-emptive state of emergency was tantamount to a breach of national security. And so while no immediate evidence suggested imminent danger to the general public and economic infrastructure, proportionate measures taken, now far outweighed the argument for adherence to Convention policy, despite overwhelming disagreement by the European Commission.
There was also discussion around unlawful use of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) as provided for in s.24 of the 2001 Act, who were granted exclusive jurisdiction over the rights and appeals of detainees, as opposed to referral to the courts, which was another obvious attempt to circumvent due process under principles of national security.
With knowledge of deviant use of policy and a flagrant appreciation of the English judicial system the House unanimously allowed the appeals, while quashing the Derogation Order and declaring s.23 of the Ant-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 incompatible with arts.5 and 14 of the ECHR on grounds of discrimination through the use of immigration status, before reminding the court that:
“[A] non-national who faces the prospect of torture or inhuman treatment if returned to his own country, and who cannot be deported to any third country and is not charged with any crime, may not under article 5(1)(f) of the Convention and Schedule 3 to the Immigration Act 1971 be detained here even if judged to be a threat to national security.”