United Kingdom: Court rules against terror suspects’ human rights complaint

Judges have today backed the United Kingdom and ruled against a human rights complaint brought by three terror suspects.

The European Court of Human Rights accepted that the United Kingdom’s courts struck the right balance between the fight against terrorism and suspects’ procedural rights.

In today’s Chamber judgment, in the case of Sher and Others v. the United Kingdom (application no. 5201/11) the European Court of Human Rights held:

by six votes to one, that there had been no violation of Article 5 § 4 (right to take proceedings to challenge lawfulness of detention) of the European Convention on Human Rights; and

unanimously, that there had been no violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the convention.

The case concerned the arrest and detention of three Pakistani nationals, the applicants, in the context of a counterterrorism operation. The applicants were detained for 13 days, before ultimately being released without charge.

During that period they were brought twice before a court with warrants for their further detention being granted. They were then taken into immigration detention and have since voluntarily returned to Pakistan.

In their complaints before the European Court, they alleged in particular that they had been denied an adversarial procedure during the hearings on requests for prolongation of their detention because certain evidence in favour of their continued detention had been withheld from them and that one such hearing had been held for a short period in closed session.

They also complained about the search of their homes during their detention.

The court accepted that the UK authorities had suspected an imminent terrorist attack and had launched an extremely complex investigation aimed at thwarting it.

Reiterating that terrorism fell into a special category, it held that Article 5 § 4 could not be used to prevent the use of a closed hearing or to place disproportionate difficulties in the way of police authorities in taking effective measures to counter terrorism.

In the applicants’ case, the threat of an imminent terrorist attack and national security considerations had justified restrictions on the applicants’ right to adversarial proceedings concerning the warrants for their further detention.

Similarly, the court found that the fight against terrorism and the urgency of the situation had justified a search of the applicants’ homes pursuant to a search warrant framed in relatively broad terms.

Moreover, there had been sufficient safeguards against the risk of arbitrariness both in respect of the proceedings for warrants of further detention, in the form of a legal framework setting out clear and detailed procedural rules, as well as in respect of the search warrants, which had been issued by a judge, without the applicants suggesting that there had been no reasonable grounds for doing so.

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