Measures announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in Australia that will affect returnees from the conflict in Syria and Iraq have been branded as arbitrary and disproportional by rights group CAGE.

Among the proposed measures are powers that will allow police officers to seize an individual’s passport and place them on a no-fly list on the basis of ‘reasonable suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity.’ This is yet another step away from the protection of fundamental rights  as has been the case in police stop and search powers where there is evidence that the threshold is too low and leads to widespread abuse and claims of discrimination.

Other measures announced by the PM include: excluding potential returnees for up to two years unless they consent to face trial, home detention, regular police monitoring or go on a de-radicalisation course; security services given responsibility for interviewing potential returnees in order to assess their fitness to remain in the country; and a requirement that airlines refuse the right to board UK citizens who are deemed by authorities to be dangerous.

This move coincides with a legal challenge in the UK Supreme court by CAGE and other rights groups over the way extensive powers police already have to stop and detain people at UK ports has violated fundamental rights and been exercised in a discriminatory fashion.

“The arbitrary way in which the government has just plucked two years out of the thin air to deny Britons the fundamental right to enter this country should sends shivers down one’s spine,” said Cerie Bullivant, a CAGE spokesperson.

“It is shocking that so much power can be handed over to security services who are unaccountable unlike the police. The decisions are made and enforced by faceless individuals on the basis of assessments that are incapable of being challenged in a court of law. Where there is an opportunity the gaps are quickly closed and any trial that takes place is in secret. If the jury despite all the pressure and resources of the state aimed at them fail to reach a verdict there is a retrial until a conviction is obtained.”

‘The charge of Orwellian tactics is applied far too often, but for once it is an apt description of a massive blow to the integrity of the British adherence to the rule of law. The public are uninformed of the wholesale assault that is being launched on civil liberties under the cloak of anti-terrorism. We are witnessing a fundamental shift in the constitutional settlement with the executive acquiring significant powers that will be used in other areas.
The handing over of information by internet providers is only a small aspect of the invasion of privacy of every citizen. There is nothing to stop the shadow of “reasonable suspicion “ being cast on any holidaymaker returning form Turkey or any other destination.

CAGE has called for an amnesty for returning fighters expect in cases where there is clear evidence of war crimes.

Contact:        Mr Amandla Thomas-Johnson
Phone:          +(44) 207 377 6700