BBC wins inmate interview ruling
The BBC has won a High Court battle over a Government refusal to allow the corporation to film and broadcast an interview with a terror suspect detained in the UK for more than seven years without trial.
Two judges said the case of Babar Ahmad, who has been detained without trial longer than any other British national in modern history, was "highly exceptional".
Because of its unusual facts, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's continued refusal to allow the interview was a "disproportionate interference with freedom of expression" and must be quashed, said the judges. The decision is a victory for the BBC and home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani. Government lawyers indicated there would be no appeal and talks will take place about the practicalities of arranging an interview.
Ahmad, a 37-year-old British Muslim, is being held under controversial extradition laws as he fights removal to the US, where he is wanted for allegedly raising funds for Chechen and Afghan insurgents over the internet. He strongly denies any involvement with terrorism.
He is being held in a special detainee unit at Long Lartin Prison, Worcestershire, waiting for the European Court of Human Rights to rule on whether he should be extradited. The court was told that a ruling was being prepared "as a matter of urgency".
In what is believed to be the first ever legal challenge to a refusal to permit a broadcaster to film an interview in prison, Mr Clarke's lawyers argued at a one-day hearing at the High Court in London last December that the Government's general policy of blocking such interviews was a "necessary and legitimate" interference with human rights.
In Ahmad's case, there were compelling reasons for refusing, having regard to the extreme seriousness of the crimes of which he stood accused, said James Eadie QC, for the Government. No "convincing reason" had been given why an exception should be made to the policy in Ahmad's case - or why it was not sufficient for journalists to report Ahmad's written comments, or for them to speak to him by telephone and report what he told them.
In Wednesday's judgment, Lord Justice Hooper and Mr Justice Singh, sitting at the High Court in London, said the Government was entitled to maintain its policy. But Ahmad's circumstances were highly exceptional and "justifies departure from the normal policy".
The Justice Secretary had been unable to justify his refusal, and it constituted a disproportionate interference with the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Outside court, the detainee's father, Ashfaq Ahmad, said he was pleased with the court's ruling. He said: "Other people facing extradition to the US, such as the NatWest Three and Gary McKinnon, have been allowed full access to the media to tell the public the truth about their ordeals and our flawed extradition laws. I urge Mr Clarke to listen to the public and not to appeal this decision. After all, what has the Government to fear from what Babar has to say?"