Liberty poll shows public support investigation and prosecution over unsafe and unfair control orders

06 January 2011

Today a Liberty poll revealed that the public prefer surveillance of terror suspects to gather evidence for prosecution rather than the control order regime.

The poll, conducted by YouGov this week, contradicts recent assumptions that the unfair system has overwhelming popular support.

Those polled were asked if the various restrictions of control orders are a better way to deal with terror suspects than intensive surveillance with a view to prosecution.  46% of respondents favoured surveillance with a view to prosecution compared with 40% who preferred the control order system.  The results indicate that the public has a real appetite for exploring alternatives to the discredited scheme.

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said:

“No one wants dangerous terror suspects loose in the community but that is exactly what happens under control orders. Innocent people can have their lives ruined without charge or trial and guilty ones can disappear without a trace. In the week that the Prime Minister announced his intention to replace the disastrous scheme, our poll shows that when you offer people a viable alternative, they are keen to explore it.”

Control orders were established in 2005 and allow suspects to be indefinitely tagged, confined to their homes and banned from communicating with others – all without police interview, charge or trial. The restrictions can prevent an individual who obeys the order from working or having any normal contact with the outside world, effectively amounting to solitary confinement and house arrest. At the same time 15 percent of these suspects have completely escaped from the authorities.

The Government is reviewing the policy as part of its Counter Terror and Security Powers Review.  Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats opposed the control order regime when in opposition but have this week faced calls from some former Ministers to retain them.

Contact: Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831 128


1.      All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,952 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4 - 5 January 2011.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).  Those polled were asked:

Which of the following is a better way of dealing with people suspected of terrorism, when they have not been arrested or charged?

  • Restricting where suspects can go and who they can meet, electronically tagging them and banning them from using telephones and the internet
  • NOT imposing such restrictions, but instead placing them under intensive surveillance and monitoring their communication, in order to gather evidence with which to prosecute them
  • Don’t  know


2.      Control orders were brought in by the Government under the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act after the Law Lords ruled that indefinite detention without charge for foreign terror suspects in Belmarsh prison violated their human rights. Control orders (applicable to Britons and non-nationals alike but currently only applied to 8 British citizens) severely restrict who a person can meet, where they can go and all cases have involved electronic tagging. Restrictions have included lengthy curfews, internal exile and bans on unauthorised visitors and internet access. Control orders can last indefinitely. The person does not have to be accused of any crime and does not have to be told why they are under suspicion.


3.      As of February 2010, 7 controlees were known to have absconded – this amounts to 15% of all those ever subjected to a control order.  In addition, according to the February 2010 report by the Reviewer of Terrorism, two of the individuals who were then subjected to control orders were believed to continue to associate with extremist groups.  Three others, despite being subject to control orders for extended periods of time, were also believed to present the same level of risk as when they were first placed under house arrest. 


4. Control orders are both unfair and unsafe: Cerie Bullivant was on a control order for two years and was subject to curfews, forced residence, house searches and tagging – when his control order was quashed the judge in the High Court said there were no reasonable grounds to suspect he was involved in terrorism.  Another ex-controlee, Abu Rideh, was subject to punishment without trial for 7 ½ years (allegedly because he was a grave danger to the public). Yet during this time he frequently attended large public gatherings unimpeded by the authorities. Read Cerie Bullivant's story (PDF)