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United Kingdom

Events of 2008


Serious human rights concerns about the UK's counterterrorism law and practice were raised by international bodies during 2008, including the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Human Rights Council under its Universal Periodic Review, and the Council of Europe.

Following a crushing defeat in the House of Lords, the government withdrew from a draft counterterrorism bill measures extending pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects from 28 to 42 days. It also removed a proposal to allow inquests in secret on national security grounds. The government has said that it may reintroduce both proposals, widely criticized as incompatible with human rights law, in future bills. At this writing, the bill includes the power to impose blanket lifelong notification requirements for individuals convicted of terrorism offenses in the UK or abroad, breach of which would be a criminal offense.

The Court of Appeal overturned a number of convictions for terrorism offenses. In February it quashed a 2007 conviction of five students under section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000 for downloading and sharing material considered to be terrorism-related. The court ruled that the offense requires proof of intent that the material is for a terrorist purpose. In July the court reversed the November 2007 conviction of Samina Malik under section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 for possession of information useful to terrorists. The ruling followed a separate February 2008 Court of Appeal decision that section 58 does not apply to mere propaganda.

In May a staff member and a graduate student at Nottingham University, Hicham Yezza and Rizwaan Sabir, were arrested for possessing a document ("the Al Qaida Manual") freely available on the internet. They were detained for six days before being released without charge. The case raises concerns about the impact of terrorism legislation on academic freedom.

In September the inquest opened into the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent man, by police officers during a counterterrorism operation in July 2005.

UK courts continued to block attempts to deport terrorism suspects on the basis of diplomatic assurances. In April 2008 the Court of Appeal ruled that Omar Othman, (known as Abu Qatada) could not be deported to Jordan, on the grounds that torture evidence would be used against him at trial. He was subsequently released on bail from a high-security prison on strict security conditions including a 22-hour curfew. In October the Law Lords considered the appeal court's ruling in Othman, and a second appeal about removals to Algeria using assurances. It has yet to deliver a judgment in either case at this writing.

The Court of Appeal blocked the deportation of two Libyans to Libya in April, ruling that a memorandum of understanding with Libya was unreliable, and finding that the men would face a "complete" denial of fair trial if they were returned. The UK government is not appealing the ruling on Libya.

The use of the British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia as part of the US renditions program was confirmed. In February CIA Director Michael Hayden admitted that the US had used Diego Garcia twice to refuel aircraft taking terrorism suspects to Guantanamo Bay and Morocco in 2002. The UK government maintains that it had not given consent for or been informed of this use of Diego Garcia.

In August 2008 the High Court ruled that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should in principle disclose material in its possession that would assist the lawyers of Binyam Mohamed, a former UK resident facing trial before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, in demonstrating that confessions used in evidence against him had been extracted through torture and were therefore inadmissible at trial. At this writing, a further hearing to consider national security arguments against disclosure has been adjourned pending the outcome of US proceedings in which the US government has been directed to hand over the materials. In October the home secretary asked the attorney general to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing by the UK Security Service and the CIA in Mohamed's treatment.

During a review by the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child in September, the UK government announced that it would withdraw its reservation to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in immigration cases. The committee welcomed the announcement but expressed regret that the best interests of the child are not given primary consideration in the areas of juvenile justice, immigration, freedom of movement, and peaceful assembly.