Terrorism involves a gross violation of fundamental rights. From the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s, to the events of 9/11/2001 in the US and 7/7/2005 and, more recently, events in Syria, Paris and elsewhere, the UK has been challenged by terrorist violence.
However, human rights are also threatened by disproportionate counter-terrorism measures, especially those passed during an emergency. Detention without trial, virtual house arrest, stop and search without reasonable suspicion, deportation to countries where torture is used – these are just some of the measures that the UK government has introduced over time in order to deal with the threat of terrorism.
Since the case of Chahal v United Kingdom before the European Court of Human Rights in 1996, JUSTICE has been active in highlighting the importance of upholding human rights and the rule of law in counter-terrorism laws passed in the interest of national security.
We have briefed on all major terrorism legislation since 2000 and have intervened in virtually all the major terrorism cases before the House of Lords and Supreme Court over the past decade.
All of our work in this area emphasises the need for our response to threats to national security to incorporate respect for human rights and the rule of law.
‘Neither confirm nor deny’ (NCND) response
The NCND response is most often used by public authorities in the national security and law enforcement contexts to avoid revealing sensitive information. It may, for example, be used in response to requests for information on undercover operations or in relation to surveillance programmes. However, in some circumstances, NCND has been used by public authorities to avoid disclosing information that may reveal unlawful activity. For instance, the police repeatedly used NCND in response to allegations of undercover police officers maintaining long-term, intimate relationships with environmental activists.
JUSTICE will soon publish a short report arguing that although there are legitimate circumstances where the response can be invoked, it should not be applied in a blanket fashion. Overuse of NCND unduly limits a claimant’s ability to plead their case and threatens open justice.
JUSTICE’s work on NCND was supported by Oxford Pro Bono Publico (OPBP), an organisation based at the Oxford University Faculty of Law, who conducted comparative research on the use of NCND in various jurisdictions.
Examples of our recent work in this area include:
- Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill 2014-15
- Belhadj v Straw & Ors
- Justice and Security Act 2013
- Freedom from suspicion: Surveillance Reform for a Digital Age