Judgments - A (FC) and others (FC) (Appellants) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent)

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    19.  Article 4(1) of the ICCPR is expressed in terms very similar to those of article 15(1), and has led to the promulgation of "The Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" (1985) 7 HRQ 3. In paras 39-40, under the heading "Public Emergency which Threatens the Life of the Nation", it is said:

    "39.  A state party may take measures derogating from its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights pursuant to Article 4 (hereinafter called 'derogation measures') only when faced with a situation of exceptional and actual or imminent danger which threatens the life of the nation. A threat to the life of the nation is one that:

      (a) affects the whole of the population and either the whole or part of the territory of the State, and

      (b) threatens the physical integrity of the population, the political independence or the territorial integrity of the State or the existence or basic functioning of institutions indispensable to ensure and protect the rights recognised in the Covenant.

    40. Internal conflict and unrest that do not constitute a grave and imminent threat to the life of the nation cannot justify derogations under Article 4."

    20.  The appellants did not seek to play down the catastrophic nature of what had taken place on 11 September 2001 nor the threat posed to western democracies by international terrorism. But they argued that there had been no public emergency threatening the life of the British nation, for three main reasons: if the emergency was not (as in all the decided cases) actual, it must be shown to be imminent, which could not be shown here; the emergency must be of a temporary nature, which again could not be shown here; and the practice of other states, none of which had derogated from the European Convention, strongly suggested that there was no public emergency calling for derogation. All these points call for some explanation.

    21.  The requirement of imminence is not expressed in article 15 of the European Convention or article 4 of the ICCPR but it has, as already noted, been treated by the European Court as a necessary condition of a valid derogation. It is a view shared by the distinguished academic authors of the Siracusa Principles, who in 1985 formulated the rule (applying to the ICCPR):

    "54. The principle of strict necessity shall be applied in an objective manner. Each measure shall be directed to an actual, clear, present, or imminent danger and may not be imposed merely because of an apprehension of potential danger."

In submitting that the test of imminence was not met, the appellants pointed to ministerial statements in October 2001 and March 2002: "There is no immediate intelligence pointing to a specific threat to the United Kingdom, but we remain alert, domestically as well as internationally;" and "[I]t would be wrong to say that we have evidence of a particular threat."

    22.  The requirement of temporariness is again not expressed in article 15 or article 4 unless it be inherent in the meaning of "emergency." But the UN Human Rights Committee on 24 July 2001, in General Comment No 29 on article 4 of the ICCPR, observed in para 2 that:

    "Measures derogating from the provisions of the Covenant must be of an exceptional and temporary nature."

This view was also taken by the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, which in its Eighteenth Report of the Session 2003-2004 (HL paper 158, HC 713, 21 July 2004), in para 4, observed:

    "Derogations from human rights obligations are permitted in order to deal with emergencies. They are intended to be temporary. According to the Government and the Security Service, the UK now faces a near-permanent emergency."

It is indeed true that official spokesmen have declined to suggest when, if ever, the present situation might change.

    23.  No state other than the United Kingdom has derogated from article 5. In Resolution 1271 adopted on 24 January 2002, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe resolved (para 9) that:

    "In their fight against terrorism, Council of Europe members should not provide for any derogations to the European Convention on Human Rights."

It also called on all member states (para 12) to:

    "refrain from using Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights (derogation in time of emergency) to limit the rights and liberties guaranteed under its Article 5 (right to liberty and security)."

In its General Comment No 29 on article 4 of the ICCPR, the UN Human Rights Committee on 24 July 2001 observed (in para 3):

    "On a number of occasions the Committee has expressed its concern over States parties that appear to have derogated from rights protected by the Covenant, or whose domestic law appears to allow such derogation, in situations not covered by article 4."

In Opinion 1/2002 of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights (Comm DH (2002) 7, 28 August 2002), Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles observed, in para 33:

    "Whilst acknowledging the obligation of governments to protect their citizens against the threat of terrorism, the Commissioner is of the opinion that general appeals to an increased risk of terrorist activity post September 11th 2001 cannot, on their own, be sufficient to justify derogating from the Convention. Several European states long faced with recurring terrorist activity have not considered it necessary to derogate from Convention rights. Nor have any found it necessary to do so under the present circumstances. Detailed information pointing to a real and imminent danger to public safety in the United Kingdom will, therefore, have to be shown."

The Committee of Privy Counsellors established pursuant to section 122 of the 2001 Act under the chairmanship of Lord Newton of Braintree, which reported on 18 December 2003 (Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 Review: Report, HC 100) attached significance to this point:

    "189.  The UK is the only country to have found it necessary to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights. We found this puzzling, as it seems clear that other countries face considerable threats from terrorists within their borders."

It noted that France, Italy and Germany had all been threatened, as well as the UK.

    24.  The appellants submitted that detailed information pointing to a real and imminent danger to public safety in the United Kingdom had not been shown. In making this submission they were able to rely on a series of reports by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. In its Second Report of the Session 2001-2002 (HL paper 37, HC 372), made on 14 November 2001 when the 2001 Act was a Bill before Parliament, the Joint Committee stated (in para 30):

    "Having considered the Home Secretary's evidence carefully, we recognise that there may be evidence of the existence of a public emergency threatening the life of the nation, although none was shown by him to this Committee."

It repeated these doubts in para 4 of its Fifth Report of the Session 2001-2002 (3 December 2001). In para 20 of its Fifth Report of the Session 2002-2003 (HL paper 59, HC 462, 24 February 2003), following the decisions of SIAC and the Court of Appeal, the Joint Committee noted that SIAC had had sight of closed as well as open material but suggested that each House might wish to seek further information from the Government on the public emergency issue. In its report of 23 February 2004 (Sixth Report of the Session 2003-2004, HL Paper 38, HC 381), the Joint Committee stated, in para 34:

    "Insufficient evidence has been presented to Parliament to make it possible for us to accept that derogation under ECHR Article 15 is strictly required by the exigencies of the situation to deal with a public emergency threatening the life of the nation."

It adhered to this opinion in paras 15-19 of its Eighteenth Report of the Session 2003-2004 (HL Paper 158, HC 713), drawing attention (para 82) to the fact that the UK was the only country out of 45 countries in the Council of Europe which had found it necessary to derogate from article 5. The appellants relied on these doubts when contrasting the British derogation with the conduct of other Council of Europe member states which had not derogated, including even Spain which had actually experienced catastrophic violence inflicted by Al-Qaeda.

    25.  The Attorney General, representing the Home Secretary, answered these points. He submitted that an emergency could properly be regarded as imminent if an atrocity was credibly threatened by a body such as Al-Qaeda which had demonstrated its capacity and will to carry out such a threat, where the atrocity might be committed without warning at any time. The Government, responsible as it was and is for the safety of the British people, need not wait for disaster to strike before taking necessary steps to prevent it striking. As to the requirement that the emergency be temporary, the Attorney General did not suggest that an emergency could ever become the normal state of affairs, but he did resist the imposition of any artificial temporal limit to an emergency of the present kind, and pointed out that the emergency which had been held to justify derogation in Northern Ireland in 1988 had been accepted as continuing for a considerable number of years (see Marshall v United Kingdom (10 July 2001, Appn No 41571/98) para 18 above). Little help, it was suggested, could be gained by looking at the practice of other states. It was for each national government, as the guardian of its own people's safety, to make its own judgment on the basis of the facts known to it. Insofar as any difference of practice as between the United Kingdom and other Council of Europe members called for justification, it could be found in this country's prominent role as an enemy of Al-Qaeda and an ally of the United States. The Attorney General also made two more fundamental submissions. First, he submitted that there was no error of law in SIAC's approach to this issue and accordingly, since an appeal against its decision lay only on a point of law, there was no ground upon which any appellate court was entitled to disturb its conclusion. Secondly, he submitted that the judgment on this question was pre-eminently one within the discretionary area of judgment reserved to the Secretary of State and his colleagues, exercising their judgment with the benefit of official advice, and to Parliament.

    26.  The appellants have in my opinion raised an important and difficult question, as the continuing anxiety of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the observations of the Commissioner for Human Rights and the warnings of the UN Human Rights Committee make clear. In the result, however, not without misgiving (fortified by reading the opinion of my noble and learned friend Lord Hoffmann), I would resolve this issue against the appellants, for three main reasons.

    27.  First, it is not shown that SIAC or the Court of Appeal misdirected themselves on this issue. SIAC considered a body of closed material, that is, secret material of a sensitive nature not shown to the parties. The Court of Appeal was not asked to read this material. The Attorney General expressly declined to ask the House to read it. From this I infer that while the closed material no doubt substantiates and strengthens the evidence in the public domain, it does not alter its essential character and effect. But this is in my view beside the point. It is not shown that SIAC misdirected itself in law on this issue, and the view which it accepted was one it could reach on the open evidence in the case.

    28.  My second reason is a legal one. The European Court decisions in Ireland v United Kingdom (1978) 2 EHRR 25; Brannigan and McBride v United Kingdom (1993) 17 EHRR 539; Aksoy v Turkey (1996) 23 EHRR 553 and Marshall v United Kingdom (10 July 2001, Appn. No. 41571/98) seem to me to be, with respect, clearly right. In each case the member state had actually experienced widespread loss of life caused by an armed body dedicated to destroying the territorial integrity of the state. To hold that the article 15 test was not satisfied in such circumstances, if a response beyond that provided by the ordinary course of law was required, would have been perverse. But these features were not, on the facts found, very clearly present in Lawless v Ireland (No 3) (1961) 1 EHRR 15. That was a relatively early decision of the European Court, but it has never to my knowledge been disavowed and the House is required by section 2(1) of the 1998 Act to take it into account. The decision may perhaps be explained as showing the breadth of the margin of appreciation accorded by the Court to national authorities. It may even have been influenced by the generous opportunity for release given to Mr Lawless and those in his position. If, however, it was open to the Irish Government in Lawless to conclude that there was a public emergency threatening the life of the Irish nation, the British Government could scarcely be faulted for reaching that conclusion in the much more dangerous situation which arose after 11 September.

    29.  Thirdly, I would accept that great weight should be given to the judgment of the Home Secretary, his colleagues and Parliament on this question, because they were called on to exercise a pre-eminently political judgment. It involved making a factual prediction of what various people around the world might or might not do, and when (if at all) they might do it, and what the consequences might be if they did. Any prediction about the future behaviour of human beings (as opposed to the phases of the moon or high water at London Bridge) is necessarily problematical. Reasonable and informed minds may differ, and a judgment is not shown to be wrong or unreasonable because that which is thought likely to happen does not happen. It would have been irresponsible not to err, if at all, on the side of safety. As will become apparent, I do not accept the full breadth of the Attorney General's argument on what is generally called the deference owed by the courts to the political authorities. It is perhaps preferable to approach this question as one of demarcation of functions or what Liberty in its written case called "relative institutional competence". The more purely political (in a broad or narrow sense) a question is, the more appropriate it will be for political resolution and the less likely it is to be an appropriate matter for judicial decision. The smaller, therefore, will be the potential role of the court. It is the function of political and not judicial bodies to resolve political questions. Conversely, the greater the legal content of any issue, the greater the potential role of the court, because under our constitution and subject to the sovereign power of Parliament it is the function of the courts and not of political bodies to resolve legal questions. The present question seems to me to be very much at the political end of the spectrum: see Secretary of State for the Home Department v Rehman [2001] UKHL 47, [2003] 1 AC 153, para 62, per Lord Hoffmann. The appellants recognised this by acknowledging that the Home Secretary's decision on the present question was less readily open to challenge than his decision (as they argued) on some other questions. This reflects the unintrusive approach of the European Court to such a question. I conclude that the appellants have shown no ground strong enough to warrant displacing the Secretary of State's decision on this important threshold question.


    30.  Article 15 requires that any measures taken by a member state in derogation of its obligations under the Convention should not go beyond what is "strictly required by the exigencies of the situation." Thus the Convention imposes a test of strict necessity or, in Convention terminology, proportionality. The appellants founded on the principle adopted by the Privy Council in de Freitas v Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Lands and Housing [1999] 1 AC 69, 80. In determining whether a limitation is arbitrary or excessive, the court must ask itself:

    "whether: (i) the legislative objective is sufficiently important to justify limiting a fundamental right; (ii) the measures designed to meet the legislative objective are rationally connected to it; and (iii) the means used to impair the right or freedom are no more than is necessary to accomplish the objective."

This approach is close to that laid down by the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Oakes [1986] 1 SCR 103, paras 69-70, and in Libman v Attorney General of Quebec (1997) 3 BHRC 269, para 38. To some extent these questions are, or may be, interrelated. But the appellants directed the main thrust of their argument to the second and third questions. They submitted that even if it were accepted that the legislative objective of protecting the British people against the risk of catastrophic Al-Qaeda terrorism was sufficiently important to justify limiting the fundamental right to personal freedom of those facing no criminal accusation, the 2001 Act was not designed to meet that objective and was not rationally connected to it. Furthermore, the legislative objective could have been achieved by means which did not, or did not so severely, restrict the fundamental right to personal freedom.

    31.  The appellants' argument under this head can, I hope fairly, be summarised as involving the following steps:

    (1)  Part 4 of the 2001 Act reversed the effect of the decisions in Hardial Singh [1984] 1 WLR 704 and Chahal (1996) 23 EHRR 413 and was apt to address the problems of immigration control caused to the United Kingdom by article 5(1)(f) of the Convention read in the light of those decisions.

    (2)  The public emergency on which the United Kingdom relied to derogate from the Convention right to personal liberty was the threat to the security of the United Kingdom presented by Al-Qaeda terrorists and their supporters.

    (3)  While the threat to the security of the United Kingdom derived predominantly and most immediately from foreign nationals, some of whom could not be deported because they would face torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in their home countries and who could not be deported to any third country willing to receive them, the threat to the United Kingdom did not derive solely from such foreign nationals.

    (4)  Sections 21 and 23 did not rationally address the threat to the security of the United Kingdom presented by Al-Qaeda terrorists and their supporters because (a) it did not address the threat presented by UK nationals, (b) it permitted foreign nationals suspected of being Al-Qaeda terrorists or their supporters to pursue their activities abroad if there was any country to which they were able to go, and (c) the sections permitted the certification and detention of persons who were not suspected of presenting any threat to the security of the United Kingdom as Al-Qaeda terrorists or supporters.

    (5)  If the threat presented to the security of the United Kingdom by UK nationals suspected of being Al-Qaeda terrorists or their supporters could be addressed without infringing their right to personal liberty, it is not shown why similar measures could not adequately address the threat presented by foreign nationals.

    (6)  Since the right to personal liberty is among the most fundamental of the rights protected by the European Convention, any restriction of it must be closely scrutinised by the national court and such scrutiny involves no violation of democratic or constitutional principle.

    (7)  In the light of such scrutiny, neither the Derogation Order nor sections 21 and 23 of the 2001 Act can be justified.

    32.  It is unnecessary to linger on the first two steps of this argument, neither of which is controversial and both of which are clearly correct. The third step calls for closer examination. The evidence before SIAC was that the Home Secretary considered "that the serious threats to the nation emanated predominantly (albeit not exclusively) and more immediately from the category of foreign nationals." In para 95 of its judgment SIAC held:

    "But the evidence before us demonstrates beyond argument that the threat is not so confined. [i.e. is not confined to the alien section of the population]. There are many British nationals already identified - mostly in detention abroad - who fall within the definition of 'suspected international terrorists,' and it was clear from the submissions made to us that in the opinion of the [Home Secretary] there are others at liberty in the United Kingdom who could be similarly defined."

This finding has not been challenged, and since SIAC is the responsible fact-finding tribunal it is unnecessary to examine the basis of it. There was however evidence before SIAC that "upwards of a thousand individuals from the UK are estimated on the basis of intelligence to have attended training camps in Afghanistan in the last five years," that some British citizens are said to have planned to return from Afghanistan to the United Kingdom and that "The backgrounds of those detained show the high level of involvement of British citizens and those otherwise connected with the United Kingdom in the terrorist networks." It seems plain that the threat to the United Kingdom did not derive solely from foreign nationals or from foreign nationals whom it was unlawful to deport. Later evidence, not before SIAC or the Court of Appeal, supports that conclusion. The Newton Committee recorded the Home Office argument that the threat from Al-Qaeda terrorism was predominantly from foreigners but drew attention (para 193) to

    "accumulating evidence that this is not now the case. The British suicide bombers who attacked Tel Aviv in May 2003, Richard Reid ('the Shoe Bomber'), and recent arrests suggest that the threat from UK citizens is real. Almost 30% of Terrorism Act 2000 suspects in the past year have been British. We have been told that, of the people of interest to the authorities because of their suspected involvement in international terrorism, nearly half are British nationals."

    33.  The fourth step in the appellants' argument is of obvious importance to it. It is plain that sections 21 and 23 of the 2001 Act do not address the threat presented by UK nationals since they do not provide for the certification and detention of UK nationals. It is beside the point that other sections of the 2001 Act and the 2000 Act do apply to UK nationals, since they are not the subject of derogation, are not the subject of complaint and apply equally to foreign nationals. Yet the threat from UK nationals, if quantitatively smaller, is not said to be qualitatively different from that from foreign nationals. It is also plain that sections 21 and 23 do permit a person certified and detained to leave the United Kingdom and go to any other country willing to receive him, as two of the appellants did when they left for Morocco and France respectively (see para 2 above). Such freedom to leave is wholly explicable in terms of immigration control: if the British authorities wish to deport a foreign national but cannot deport him to country "A" because of Chahal their purpose is as well served by his voluntary departure for country "B". But allowing a suspected international terrorist to leave our shores and depart to another country, perhaps a country as close as France, there to pursue his criminal designs, is hard to reconcile with a belief in his capacity to inflict serious injury to the people and interests of this country. It seems clear from the language of section 21 of the 2001 Act, read with the definition of terrorism in section 1 of the 2000 Act, that section 21 is capable of covering those who have no link at all with Al-Qaeda (they might, for example, be members of the Basque separatist organisation ETA), or who, although supporting the general aims of Al-Qaeda, reject its cult of violence. The Attorney General conceded that sections 21 and 23 could not lawfully be invoked in the case of suspected international terrorists other than those thought to be connected with Al-Qaeda, and undertook that the procedure would not be used in such cases. A restrictive reading of the broad statutory language might in any event be indicated: Padfield v Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food [1968] AC 997. The appellants were content to accept the Attorney General's concession and undertaking. It is not however acceptable that interpretation and application of a statutory provision bearing on the liberty of the subject should be governed by implication, concession and undertaking.

    34.  Some of these features of the 2001 Act were the subject of comment by the European Commissioner for Human Rights in his Opinion 1/2002 (28 August 2002):

    "36.  The proportionality of the derogating measures is further brought into question by the definition of international terrorist organisations provided by section 21(3) of the Act. The section would appear to permit the indefinite detention of an individual suspected of having links with an international terrorist organisation irrespective of its presenting a direct threat to public security in the United Kingdom and perhaps, therefore, of no relation to the emergency originally requiring the legislation under which his Convention rights may be prejudiced.

    37.  Another anomaly arises in so far as an individual detained on suspicion of links with international terrorist organisations must be released and deported to a safe receiving country should one become available. If the suspicion is well founded, and the terrorist organisation a genuine threat to UK security, such individuals will remain, subject to possible controls by the receiving state, at liberty to plan and pursue, albeit at some distance from the United Kingdom, activity potentially prejudicial to its public security.

    38.  It would appear, therefore, that the derogating measures of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act allow both for the detention of those presenting no direct threat to the United Kingdom and for the release of those of whom it is alleged that they do. Such a paradoxical conclusion is hard to reconcile with the strict exigencies of the situation."

The Newton Committee, while expressing no opinion on the legality of Part 4 of the 2001 Act, echoed the Commissioner's criticisms:

    "185.  The Part 4 detention powers present a number of problems that range from fundamental issues of principle to practical procedural difficulties. We are not persuaded that the powers are sufficient to meet the full extent of the threat from international terrorism. Nor are we persuaded that the risks of injustice are necessary or defensible.

    186.  Some of these problems arise because Part 4 is an adaptation of existing immigration and asylum legislation, rather than being designed expressly for the purpose of meeting the threat from international terrorism.


    "192.  The Part 4 process only tackles the threat from foreigners suspected of having links with al Qaeda or its associated networks. It does not, therefore, address the threat:

    a.  from British nationals with similar links; or from

    b.  anyone in the UK with links to other foreign terrorist causes.


    "195.  Seeking to deport terrorist suspects does not seem to us to be a satisfactory response, given the risk of exporting terrorism. If people in the UK are contributing to the terrorist effort here or abroad, they should be dealt with here. While deporting such people might free up British police, intelligence, security and prison service resources, it would not necessarily reduce the threat to British interests abroad, or make the world a safer place more generally. Indeed, there is a risk that the suspects might even return without the authorities being aware of it.


    "203.  We consider the shortcomings described above to be sufficiently serious to strongly recommend that the Part 4 powers which allow foreign nationals to be detained potentially indefinitely should be replaced as a matter of urgency. New legislation should:

    a.  deal with all terrorism, whatever its origin or the nationality of its suspected perpetrators; and

    b.  not require a derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights."

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