Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Judge-only terror courts mooted

Judge-only terror courts mooted
Judge-only courts are being considered for pre-trial hearings in terror cases, the Home Office has confirmed.

Sitting in secret, judges would look at whether there was enough evidence against suspects for cases to proceed.

On Friday, Tony Blair said the government was looking into a new court procedure allowing a pre-trial process, as he unveiled new terror measures.

Commons home affairs committee chairman John Denham has criticised ministers for putting forward "half-baked" ideas.

The Home Office said details of how terror cases would be tried were still being worked out, but confirmed a move to judge-only courts was under active consideration.


Sources told the BBC one possibility was a model similar to the Special Immigrations Appeals Tribunal, which sits in secret and keeps the details of charges from those accused of them.

In those cases defendants are represented by special advocates, who have access to the evidence but do not brief their 'clients' on the details.

BBC Political Correspondent James Hardy said: "A change of that nature might allow the authorities to use phone-tap evidence, currently inadmissible in court."

However, the Home Office said there was no truth in newspaper reports that the courts would be able to use such evidence.

James Hardy also said the changes could underpin police requests to be permitted to hold suspects without charge for longer than the current maximum of 14 days

For Muslims there, they have a duty to fight occupiers, whether they are British soldiers or American soldiers
Omar Bakri Mohammed

A similar system used to detain foreign terrorist suspects without trial was ruled unlawful by the law lords last year.

Ministers made little secret then of their anger at its defeat in the courts and now believe the London bombings may have changed the legal climate, our correspondent says.

Liberal Democrat President Simon Hughes suggested there "may be a case" for security-vetted judges to undertake special work.

But he doubted a major extension of the time suspects were held could be justified.

Tory spokesman Edward Garnier urged the government to "calm down and think these things through" and to consult other parties on the detailed proposals.

Unveiling a raft of counter-terror proposals on Friday, Mr Blair said British hospitality had been abused but people should know the "rules of the game are changing".

He also announced plans to extend powers to deport or exclude foreigners who encourage terrorism, perhaps through changing human rights laws.


There could also be new powers to close mosques and automatic refusal of asylum to anyone with anything to do with terrorism.

Police and lawyers are also meeting this week to discuss the possibility of charging some outspoken Islamist radicals with treason.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have accused the government of confusion by announcing different measures on different days.

Mr Denham said the ministers had initially produced a considered response to the London attacks, but that it now looked like they were acting in a knee-jerk fashion.


"I think they have got to get a grip on it very, very quickly, stop floating half-baked ideas and get back a proper cross-party consensus on the serious measures that have to be taken."

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Tony Blair had made it clear how he wants to proceed.

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith and Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald have discussed action for treason against three clerics.

Abu Izzadeen, Abu Uzair and Omar Bakri Mohammed, who is now understood to have left the country, were all expected to come under scrutiny.

Story from BBC NEWS: