Sylvie Beghal loses airport questioning legal challenge

People queuing at airport border control
Image caption Mrs Beghal was stopped when she arrived in the UK

The wife of a convicted terrorist has lost a major challenge against the British police's power to stop and question people at airports.

Sylvie Beghal was held at East Midlands Airport under anti-terrorism laws.

The High Court ruled that schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 did not breach human rights.

It comes weeks after the partner of a Guardian journalist was stopped under the same power, prompting a legal battle with the government.

In his judgement on Wednesday, Lord Justice Gross said the stops were "neither arbitrary nor disproportionate".

Lawyers for Mrs Beghal are expected to appeal and try to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Charged and convicted

Mrs Beghal, a French citizen who lives in the UK, was stopped in January 2011 after arriving at East Midlands Airport on a flight from Paris.

Police officers told her she was being held under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, a power that allows them to hold someone for up to nine hours and question them about whether they are involved in terrorism.

Mrs Beghal's husband is an Algerian man who was convicted and jailed in France on terrorism charges.

Djemal Beghal claims he was tortured and that his conviction is unfair.

Following the stop, Mrs Beghal refused to answer police questions without the presence of a solicitor.

She was allowed to speak to a lawyer on the phone before police asked her about her movements. When she refused to answer the questions, she was charged and later convicted of failing to comply with the order.

In her challenge, lawyers argued that the powers under schedule 7 were so widely drawn that they meant that anyone could be stopped without reasonable suspicion.

They said that those questioned at airports under the legislation were denied the right not to answer questions, unlike criminal suspects who were arrested and interviewed in a police station.

Computer equipment seized

Mrs Beghal also said that her detention at the airport breached her right to privacy and family life and restricted her freedom of movement between two EU countries.

But dismissing the challenge, Lord Justice Gross said: "The schedule 7 powers of examination survive the challenges advanced before us.

"In short, the balance struck between individual rights and the public interest in protection against terrorism does not violate the fundamental human rights in question."

This latest challenge to the powers is wider than that launched by David Miranda, the partner of a Guardian journalist who was stopped at Heathrow Airport earlier this month.

Mr Miranda alleges that the stop was unlawful because police wanted to seize his computer equipment rather than establish whether he was involved in terrorism.

In the Beghal judgement, the court stressed that schedule 7 should only be used for its specific purpose.

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