Anti-terror fight

EVER since Ministers backed down on their proposals for limited periods of detention without trial, they have been kept on the back foot in their attempts to keep track of those suspected of planning, or encouraging, terrorism.

"The rules of the game have changed," declared Tony Blair after the 7/7 atrocities in London in 2005. But if that was the case, no one chose to inform the British judiciary.

The latest blow to the Government's system of control orders, designed to restrict the movements of terrorist suspects, is the High Court ruling by Mr Justice Silber which declares that the orders made against two unidentified men were unlawful and entitles them to damages for human-rights violations dating back to 2006 when the orders were first imposed.

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The reaction of the Home Secretary has been understandable. Faced with revoking the orders, rather than revealing evidence which might compromise intelligence sources, Alan Johnson has denounced the judgment and says that he plans to appeal against it.

Only last year, however, Mr Johnson was striking a different note as he criticised post-7/7 counter-terrorism proposals as "too draconian" and "not the right way to go". Now, in the aftermath of the failed attempt to down a transatlantic airliner on Christmas Day, it may be that Ministers believe that the rules of the game have changed yet again and that a more draconian approach is needed.

Yet, despite the Government blowing hot and cold in this way, the terrorist threat has remained a consistent one. Until Ministers can demonstrate some consistency of their own, therefore, they can hardly complain if civil-liberties campaigners and the judiciary continue to undermine Government policy by placing the rights of the suspect above the far more urgent priority of public protection.