London’s High Court ruled against the British government yesterday over the use of secret evidence to deny terrorism suspects bail in what campaigners called an "historic" judgement.
The government expressed disappointment at the "unhelpful" verdict, handed down over the case brought by two men suspected of terrorism-related activities, saying it would make it harder to keep the country safe.
The court ruled that a person could not be denied bail solely on the basis of secret evidence.
The judges concluded such applications should be treated the same as "control order" cases, where terrorism suspects must be given an "irreducible minimum" of information about the case against them, the Press Association reported.
The decision is another judicial defeat for ministers over security measures, beefed up after the September 11 attacks amid much criticism from human rights campaigners.
"I am surprised and disappointed that the court has made this ruling. My sole objective is protecting the public and this judgement will make that job harder," said Home Secretary Alan Johnson.
He said the two suspects, a Pakistani student known as XC and an Algerian referred to as U who face deportation on the grounds they pose a risk to national security, would remain in custody while he sought permission to appeal the verdict.
XC was one of 12 men arrested amid great publicity by counter-terrorism police in April this year but later released without charge as there was insufficient evidence.
The men were then told they would be deported instead.
"We will do everything possible to keep this country safe and are taking steps accordingly in the light of this unhelpful judgement," he said.
The verdict follows a judgement by Britain’s highest court in June that the government had to disclose secret evidence from its spies which it used against suspects to justify stringent home curfews known as control orders.
The orders, introduced just before the 2005 London bombings that killed 52 people, allow terrorism suspects not charged with any crime to be kept under curfew for up to 16 hours a day, with tight restrictions on who they can communicate with or meet.
Human rights and justice organisations argued they violated fundamental rights, with suspects placed under tight surveillance without knowing what they have done wrong, and Johnson said in September the system would now be reviewed.
"Thanks to this historic judgement, the shadowy secret court system that has mushroomed under the War on Terror will now be exposed to the light of day," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of the campaign group Liberty.
"The hard lesson of recent years is that diluting Britain’s core values and abandoning justice makes us both less safe and free."