Highest UK court waters down anti-terrorism powers

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LONDON, Oct 31 (Reuters) Britain's highest court today ruled the government could use controversial anti-terrorism powers but only in watered-down form.

The House of Lords found that the most severe restriction the government has used to curb the movement of terrorism suspects -- an 18-hour home curfew -- breached the human right of liberty. But they said a 12-hour curfew was acceptable.

''Control orders'' allow terrorism suspects to be held under partial house arrest without being charged with any crime.

The government says they are vital to Britain's security but opponents say they violate a suspect's human rights and are ineffective. Of 29 men who have had control orders imposed on them, seven have fled.

The law lords upheld one of 10 control orders they were considering and referred other cases back to a lower court. They also laid down strict guidelines for lower courts deciding on the orders' legality on a case by case basis.

Lower courts have ruled the orders, although less harsh than jail, may violate human rights by denying suspects liberty without a trial. The government appealed to the House of Lords to try to reverse that decision.

Home Secretary (interior minister) Jacqui Smith said she was pleased the law lords had ruled in favour of control orders.

''I am disappointed that they have found against control orders containing 18-hour curfews which I feel was required to protect national security,'' she said in a statement.

However, she said she believed the ruling could allow the government to impose curfews of up to 16 hours.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, said the ruling would not completely satisfy her group or the government.

Chakrabarti said she was ''disappointed that the whole lot isn't gone'' and pledged to take the fight to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The government introduced control orders as a less severe alternative to prison after courts rejected emergency powers to jail foreign terrorism suspects indefinitely without charge.

Suspects' homes are subject to police searches, all visitors have to be approved by the government and travel, phone and internet use is restricted.

The law lords said lower courts would have to consider whether people restricted by the orders had been given enough explanation of the reasons why the orders were being imposed.

REUTERS ARB PM1910

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