Progress on stop and search but Control Orders by any other name

26 January 2011

Today the long-delayed publication of the Government’s Counter-Terrorism Review revealed that control orders will effectively be retained. When the review was announced in June last year, the Home Secretary publicly asked for Liberty’s contribution. The human rights group’s response explained the problems with the regime and offered alternatives.

The Government now proposes a ‘control order-lite’ still outside of the criminal justice system – potentially punishing the innocent while the truly dangerous may remain at large in the community.

The new rebadged system will still include electronic tagging and a residence requirement.  Controlees will not be able to meet with certain people or go to certain buildings – although it will be easier for them to use the internet.  The control orders will be limited to two years – although if it is possible to make a new order as soon as the existing one expires, then this constraint would be illusory.  Crucially, the orders will still be initiated by the Home Secretary – and the regime will continue to run outside the criminal justice system of investigation, arrest, charge and conviction. Both Coalition partners opposed control orders when in opposition.

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said:

“We welcome movement on stop and search, 28-day detention and council snooping, but when it comes to ending punishment without trial; the Government appears to have bottled it. Spin and semantics aside, control orders are retained and rebranded, if in a slightly lower fat form. As before, the innocent may be punished without a fair hearing and the guilty will escape the full force of criminal law. This leaves a familiar bitter taste. Parliament must now decide whether the final flavour will be of progress, disappointment or downright betrayal.”

Even the Government’s own reviewer of this process seems to agree that control orders should be replaced with a criminal justice mechanism:

“I have no doubt were a regime of restrictions against terrorist suspects to be linked to a continuing criminal investigation into their activities, many of the constitutional objections to such a regime would fall away.  It is precisely because the present control order system stands apart from criminal due process that it attracts such criticism”

Much more positively, the report includes the replacement of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 - the broad police power for stop and search without suspicion. This follows Liberty’s European Court of Human Rights victory last year in the case of protesters Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton. 

Safeguards will also be introduced to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) which allowed councils extensive snooping powers. This follows the high-profile case of Liberty’s client, Jenny Paton, who was subjected to council surveillance for three weeks in 2008.  Poole Council claimed that it was acting under the RIPA in order to discover whether the family lived within the catchment area where the children went to school.  In August 2010, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled the council’s surveillance of mum-of-three and her family unlawful.  As announced on Monday, pre-charge detention will be reduced from 28 to 14 days.

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


  1. Read Liberty’s response to the Counter-Terror Review, From War to Law (PDF) 
  2. In January 2011 Liberty released polling that revealed that the public prefer surveillance of terror suspects to gather evidence for prosecution rather than the control order regime. 

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 - 40%
  • 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 - 46%
  • Don’t  know - 14%


  1.  The quote from Lord MacDonald of River Glaven comes from his report on the Government’s Counter-Terror Review, paragraph 8.