Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Continuance in force of sections 1 to 9) Order 2008

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 27th February 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench 8:30 pm, 27th February 2008

My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity to speak at this annual event. I agree very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the time available has been cut in half, which is highly undesirable. I, too, am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and I thank our staff for their tremendous working in getting our report into the public domain for debates in the other place and here this evening. I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, for introducing the report, and I was very glad to hear the Minister say that the preferred option is prosecution.

My particular concern in this matter has always been to ensure that we do not at any time forget the severity of this measure and the effect that it has on those subject to it. Those subject to it include the families and friends of those under control orders. I am very glad that that is referred to in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, where he states:

"In the past year I have again been aware of the potential psychological effects of control orders".

He goes on to say,

"where the State takes coercive measures that could affect the physical or mental well-being of the individual, it is under a duty to monitor effectively the impact of those measures".

Since our first debate on renewing the order on 15 February 2006, there have been some very welcome changes and more recognition of the impact that the measure can have on the mental health of an individual and his or her family. I note that the terms of reference of the Control Order Review Group, which reviews each control order on a quarterly basis, include,

"monitoring the impact of the control order on the individual, including on their mental health and physical well-being, as well as the impact on the individual's family", and to,

"consider whether the obligations as a whole and/or individually require modification as a result".

Can the Minister tell us how that is done? Presumably, someone makes a report on the individual and on the family. Who makes the report and what are that person's qualifications? As it is a report on physical and mental health, presumably it is done by a doctor; is it an independent doctor? I should be grateful if the Minister could answer that question. I also suggest that the Control Order Review Group might be assisted in its work if there were an express duty in statute on the Home Secretary to monitor that closely and to seek independent expert evidence about the impact on the individual and his or her family.

Clearly, this is a complicated matter and it is hard to find information on the effects of the control order regime, but I learnt from an ITN news report that Mr Bullivant, whose control order was quashed, told ITN:

"Since the imposition of the ... control order ... I have been subjected to the most extreme pressures which have thrown my life into turmoil ... my wife has left me and my family and friends have become deeply distressed. The Home Office's own psychiatrist has confirmed that I am now suffering from severe depressive illness which was caused by the imposition of the control order".

Have the Government learnt anything from this case, and has it affected how they make their assessments of physical and mental health?

Also relevant to the point about the effect on the individual is the length of time of the curfew each day. The view of the Joint Committee on Human Rights is that 16 hours a day is too long. Our view is that 12 hours would be a more appropriate maximum. It is worth noting that the European Court of Human Rights in a case involving Italy has found that nine hours, when considered together with other severe restrictions, amounted to deprivation of liberty.

The Kafkaesque nature of the process may also have an effect on the mental health of the person being controlled. That person gets no reasons from the Secretary of State. If the material is closed, the controlled person may not know even the outline of the case against him or her. The special advocate cannot discuss the case with the controlled person. The JCHR believes that the Secretary of State should give reasons for the making of the control order.

We have discussed the length of the order. As I understand it, seven of the controlled people have been living like this now for two years; two of them have been under a control order for almost three years; and for the three years before that, those two were being held in Belmarsh prison. As the chairman of the Joint Committee, Andrew Dismore, pointed out:

"That makes six years, all together, in detention or under control for people who have not been convicted of any offence at all. We run the risk of creating Guantanamo-style martyrs".

I note that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, recommended a maximum of two years, other than in genuinely exceptional cases. I heard the Minister say that he does not agree with the noble Lord's proposals, but I think the Government take the view that control orders should not be indefinite. The law as it stands allows them to be indefinite, so I would be grateful if the Minister could tell the House what amendment the Government are considering to ensure that control orders cannot be indefinite.