Theresa May: Control orders to be replaced

Theresa May: "The current control order regime is imperfect and has not been as effective as it should be"

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New measures to replace controversial control orders for terror suspects have been revealed by the home secretary after a review of existing powers.

Theresa May said the new regime - known as T-Pims (Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures) - would be more "focused and flexible".

Control orders place terrorism suspects under close supervision that some say is similar to house arrest.

Critics have said the new system is little more than "control orders lite".

The existing regime should now be scrapped by the end of the year

Curfews

As with control orders, T-Pims will require the home secretary's permission with reviews by the High Court.

The measures will be limited to two years, but will be able to be extended if there is new material that the individual still poses a threat.

They will also require overnight residence of eight to 10 hours, which will be verified by an electronic tag.

Currently curfews can last for up to 16 hours.

Analysis

The coalition says it wants to rebalance counter-terror powers and liberties - but the replacement for control orders raises complex legal, security and political questions.

Officially, the current regime ends, but critics say the fundamental objection to it has not been addressed in its replacement. The home secretary still has the power to use secret evidence kept from a suspect to impose restrictions on them - albeit lesser ones - which, if broken, could lead to jail.

Theresa May insists a more "focused and flexible" regime will leave no gaps in national security. The immediate political danger is that she will face attack from the security-minded for being too weak - and from civil liberties campaigners for falling short of hopes.

But once the detailed legislation comes to Parliament, the bigger question will be whether the new system genuinely changes the status quo - or simply tweaks the edges of a very difficult business.

The home secretary said this would be more flexible than a curfew and a controlee could stay away from their home address with permission.

Some measures will stay, such as a ban on overseas travel, the requirement to regularly report to the police and a breach of these conditions leading to a maximum five-year jail term.

There will be limited restrictions on communications including the use of the internet, but controlees will be able to use it at home as long as they notify authorities of their password.

According to the Home Office these measures are not as restrictive as now.

In addition, the power of police to hold a suspect without charge for 28 days has been scrapped and the time limit will now be 14 days.

In 2005, Tony Blair's attempt to make the pre-charge limit 90 days resulted in his first Commons defeat as prime minister.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the new measures were a "proportionate response" and were a change to control orders in "fundamental design".

"They will be time limited, with complete oversight by a judge," he said, adding the measures were "in line with due process and equality before the law".

'Limited use'

In his report overseeing the counter-terrorism review, the former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, said he supported most of the recommendations.

However, he was critical of the replacement measures for control orders.

"It may be appropriate and proportionate to mandate overnight stays at a notified address," he said.

"But a tag is of limited use here, in the absence of curfew, and neither tags nor curfews are commonly used in criminal cases where residence requirements are in place: generally the police rely on spot visits and intelligence to enforce the requirement.

CONTROL ORDERS: NEW REGIME?

  • End overnight curfews - but overnight residency at named location
  • Tag suspects - same as now
  • Bans on visiting locations difficult to keep under surveillance
  • Allow mobile phones - but only if numbers are supplied
  • Foreign travel ban
  • Ban on meetings with other suspects

"In the circumstances I would regard the use of curfews and tags in this context to be disproportionate, unnecessary and objectionable. They would serve no useful purpose."

Lord Macdonald told the BBC ahead of the announcement that the UK had over-reacted to the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks.

He said the country had sacrificed "traditional ideals" of freedom in the push against terrorism, meaning British institutions became a "symbol of hypocrisy" around the world.

The Home Office launched the review in July 2010, saying it would be rapid and would be aimed at reconciling counter-terrorism powers with civil liberties.

However, the coalition has struggled to reach a deal on the future of control orders, which have been used on a small number of suspects who the government says cannot be prosecuted or, where they are foreign nationals, deported.

Cerrie Bullivant who was on a control order, that was subsequently quashed, believes they were counter-productive.

Security chiefs say the power is an essential tool in cases where there is intelligence that someone is involved in extremism but has not yet committed a crime, such as someone associating with known plotters.

Responding to the home secretary's statement in the Commons, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the review had been" chaotic".

She said it had been "delayed, confused, riven by leaks and political horse-trading".

"It is a review with some serious gaps, which raises serious questions about security and resources and the public and the people who work to keep us safe deserve better than this."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said the government had "bottled it".

"Spin and semantics aside, control orders are retained and rebranded, if in a slightly lower-fat form," she said.

"As before, the innocent may be punished without a fair hearing and the guilty will escape the full force of criminal law."

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