The real threat

The Law Lords, Britain’s highest court, ruled 8-1 last week that Britain’s anti-terrorism law – which allowed foreigners suspected of terrorism to be detained indefinitely without being charged – runs against the European Convention of Human Rights, and condemned the provision. The majority of commentators focused on the political, as it were, aspect of the ruling, underscoring the pressure building on British Prime Minister Tony Blair. More important, however, appear to be the broader implications of the legislation which sparked protests from the British judges. The Law Lords panel protested that allowing indefinite detentions of foreign suspects without trial is in breach of human rights obligations and, in that sense, poses a greater threat than terrorism. «The real threat to the life of the nation… comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these» wrote Lord Hoffman, a member of the panel, in his explanation of why he rejected the government’s claim of a situation of national emergency to justify the introduction of the law. The Law Lords ruling was a firm declaration that individual freedoms comprise a fundamental pillar of the system we are trying to protect against terrorism (among other enemies) and not secondary elements that can be sacrificed for that purpose. At the same time, it was a sign of judicial courage in the face of government pressure – an attitude so rare these days, in our country as well.