Authoritarian control orders are corrupting our justice system

It’s time to end control orders and detention without trial – and restore the rule of law.

The human rights activist Bruce Kent recently called for an Algerian man who has been held under a variety of forms of detention – including control orders – to be tried or released.

"It shocks me that someone can be detained in this way without any chance of defending himself against whatever accusations there may be. This is not the justice I was brought up to believe in," said Kent.

The call came just as the coalition government was debating what to do about control orders.

The man, Mustapha Taleb, had been subject to a control order over the period of his detention since January 2003. At present he is being held in control-order-style conditions, following the efforts of successive govenments to deport him to Algeria.

Taleb fled Algeria in 2000 after being arrested and tortured in that country. He was granted political asylum a year later. In January 2003, he was arrested on suspicion of involvement with what became known as the "ricin plot" in north London. The subsequent trial in 2005 found that there was no ricin or plot, and Taleb was among those acquitted of all charges.

Following the acquitta,l he was free for five months before being detained again in prison until January 2006. He was then placed under strict house arrest in north London. In August 2006, he was again sent back to prison until July 2008, before being released into control-order-style conditions again.

He has never been told what accusations, if any, there are against him to justify his detention.

Taleb is not the only individual being held in such conditions. I visited another Algerian man, known only as G, some four years ago. He was under similar restrictive conditions, living in a flat with his wife and two children. There were limited times when he could go out of the flat.

He wore a tag and had to check in with a security monitoring company several times a day. There was no internet access allowed and he could only be visited by individuals vetted by the Home Office.

Today he is in exactly the same situation as he was four years ago, still under control-order-style detention, living under the threat that he could be returned to Algeria, where he would face torture and imprisonment. The only route out of this horror for both G and Taleb appears to lie with the European Court of Human Rights. Both have been held on the basis of the oversight of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission tribunal.

The crucial point about these cases, and indeed the whole control order system, is the dangerous precedent that has been created of detaining people without trial. The whole debate over control orders has been framed in terms of the need to find an alternative. It would seem that we have conceded to the truly Kafkaesque situation of holding people without telling them what they are accused of, seemingly indefinitely in some cases, on the basis of unseen intelligence.

It is this point that is so crucial, because once it is accepted that some people are so dangerous that they can be detained outside the rite of habeas corpus, that principle can be extended to all sorts of categories. What the control-order regime has revealed is the whole paraphernalia of the security state, which has been allowed to grow inexorably under the aegis of the war on terror. It is a true glimpse of the authoritarian police state growing up in the shadows of our justice system.

The time has come to restore the rule of law in the UK, to get rid of control orders and the other hybrid forms of detention based on the same concept. The threat from Islamic terrorism is nothing like as great as the kind this country suffered from the IRA during the Troubles, so why have such measures been taken, which go way beyond anything ever contemplated during that very real war?

A return of the rule of law would mean that an individual can be detained only so long as the courts will allow. If the accusers do not have evidence that will stand up in court, the individual concerned should be allowed to go free. To paraphrase a former prime minister, it is now time to restore the rules of the game.

Paul Donovan, a freelance journalist, has documented the steady erosion of liberty and the extension of measures such as detention without trial over the past 15 years.

Paul Donovan writes weekly columns for the Irish Post and Catholic weekly the Universe. He also contributes to the Guardian’s Comment is Free site, Tribune and the Morning Star.
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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