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Controversial anti-terrorism clause unlawful: UK court

Glenn Greenwald says ruling is a victory for civil liberties and a blow against the UK’s 'tyrannical' definition of terrorism
Gleen Greenwald and David Miranda (AFP)

The clause in the UK Terrorism Act 2000 under which journalist David Miranda was detained in 2013 has been ruled unlawful by a UK court.

Lord Dyson, as part of a court of appeal judgement, said on Tuesday that the powers contained in the notorious Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 - which allows travellers to be detained and questioned for up to nine hours to find out whether they may be terrorists - was flawed.

“The stop power, if used in respect of journalistic information or material is incompatible with article 10 [freedom of expression] of the [European convention on human rights] because it is not ‘prescribed by law,’” he said.

“If journalists and their sources can have no expectation of confidentiality, they may decide against providing information on sensitive matters of public interest.”

Miranda was detained for nine hours at London's Heathrow Airport in August 2013, on transit home to Brazil from Berlin.

He was said to be carrying an external hard drive containing sensitive documents pertaining to the investigative reporting of his partner Glenn Greenwald, based on leaks from the former American National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden.

Dyson, the most senior judge in England and Wales, said that the Court of Appeal “rejects the broad definition of terrorism advanced by government lawyers” and said that the correct definition of terrorism “requires some intention to cause a serious threat to public safety such as endangering life”.

It was ruled, however, that the detention of Miranda itself was lawful.

Greenwald told Middle East Eye that the ruling was a victory for civil liberties and a blow against the UK’s “tyrannical” definition of terrorism.

“It’s an enormous victory, first and foremost for press freedoms, because what the court ruled is that the UK parliament can’t purport to allow its police to seize whatever they want to take from journalists by pretending it's a terrorism investigation; that much more protections are needed, be they the requirement that they go to a court first, or the ability of the person who’s been detained to go to the court immediately,” he said.

“It’s also a big victory for my partner David who has essentially been labelled a terrorist by virtue of the fact that in the eyes of the British government, what he was doing was the equivalent of terrorism.”

He added that the ruling “should help other people, primarily Muslims, who are interrogated and detained abusively under this law”.

Schedule 7 was introduced by the former Labour government of Tony Blair and allowed police officers to detain individuals without the detention being “based on an examining officer having any suspicion”.

The Home Office's code of practice said, however, that Schedule 7 powers “should not be used arbitrarily”.

The European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), under which the ruling was made, has long been a bugbear for the ruling Conservative party in the UK.

The party has promised to withdraw the UK from the ECHR and draw up a British Bill of Rights, a move which they claim will allow greater sovereign control over British law, but which critics say would allow for greater infringement of the rights of suspects.

“In essence the EU convention works much as the US constitution works, in that it says even majorities, even legislative bodies, even if they want to they can’t violate these rights because these are fundamental rights that can’t be violated by a majority vote," Greenwald told MEE.

“Maybe in the UK it would be an appealing argument to say we want to be able to violate fundamental rights and the EU shouldn’t stop us. I’ve always said that in all the countries where I’ve done reporting on the Snowden archive, the UK is by far the most authoritarian and the most eager political culture to give up their own rights and empower their government against them. So maybe that argument will be appealing, but it’s kind of difficult to convince people that it’s important as a government that you be able to violate fundamental rights.”

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