The principle of the people being defended from arbitrary power is not a modern one. What is meant by this has changed throughout the ages. Doubtless the provisions of the 1998 Human Rights Act would be incomprehensible to the medieval mind. However, one theme persists, that of a limited executive. The Monarch, and more recently, the government, have often had huge power. Alongside that fluctuation in power has been a fluctuation in how that power is limited by the houses of parliament, the courts, and the people's suffrage. The principle that governs this relationship is that of justice.
How today do we define what is just? On the 11th September 2001 some men, twisting the wisdom of Islam to bloody purpose, engaged in a momentous and terrible work of art. They were not interested in body count or market effect, they wanted the world to witness their faith. In doing so they changed our world, and changed our understanding of justice.
'One of the central dilemmas which our Government and other Governments face can be shortly stated: what are they to do about individuals in their country who, according to intelligence, pose a serious threat to national security, cannot be deported because they face a real risk of torture or death in their own country, and cannot, at least on current understandings of the criminal process, be prosecuted because the nature of the information against them would not be admissible in a criminal prosecution?'1
A key issue here is evidence. The security services have given reasons why evidence they hold against individuals cannot be brought into open court for a criminal prosecution. These reasons include, that the evidence is hear-say, that it is coupled with expert analysis, that it may compromise methods or sources, or, most tellingly, that it may fall below the standards of proof required for a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.3
How then is it decided if an individual should be placed under a control order? As things stand a person can be placed under a control order on the basis of evidence which would not be admissible in a criminal trial. Moreover this evidence may be, and often is, given behind closed doors, without the accused having a chance to hear it. An individual may have his freedom limited without knowing of the claims being made, and with no chance of refuting them. This use of 'closed evidence' changed the balance of the need for state secrecy in certain areas and the right to fair trial (Article 6 Human Rights Act 1998):
'The problem of reconciling an individual defendant's right to a fair trial with such secrecy as is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or the prevention or investigation of crime is inevitably difficult to resolve in a liberal society governed by the rule of law.'4
There is one safeguard in place, that is the use of a special advocate who will defend the individual. In a judgment Lord Bingham acknowledged their role in the process:
'The assistance which special advocates can give has been acknowledged ..., and it is no doubt possible for such advocates on occasion to demonstrate that evidence relied on against a controlled person is tainted, unreliable or self-contradictory'6
'The use of [a special advocate] is, however, never a panacea for the grave disadvantages of a person affected not being aware of the case against him'7
This is a remarkable development, the state now has the power to restrict the liberty of an individual on the security services' say-so. Further to that the security services may be getting these orders on evidence that can be “tainted, unreliable or self-contradictory”. Evidence which the accused may never get to hear or oppose.
So what is justice today? When the Edward the Confessor ordered the deaths of the people of Dover Earl Godwin was there to protect them. Since then we have come a long way; we now have right to make our case and a court that will protect us from arbitrary punishment. But; in a climate where curfews, tagging, and house arrest, are no longer considered punishments; in a climate where this can be done to a citizen without ever having to tell him why; who is there to protect us?
Perhaps this is the price we pay for our safety. Perhaps this power is necessary. And surely this power will only be used in the most serious of cases? Cases where the can be little doubt of the need to control these people?
“... all of them agree that groundless charges are never made and that once the court has made an accusation, it is firmly convinced of the accused man's guilt and can be dissuaded from this conviction only with great difficulty.” “Great difficulty?” asked the painter, throwing one hand into the air. “The court cannot be dissuaded at all...” - The Trial, Franz Kafka 9
2Secretary of State for the Home Department v E and another  1 AC 499 – it should be noted that the court allowed that control orders could be in breach of art5 HRA 1998 if their effects were particularly onerous.
3House of Lords House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights: Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights: Prosecution and Pre-Charge Detention Twenty-fourth Report of Session 2005-06 “The Main Obstacles to Prosecution” pp 15-16
4R v H  2 AC 134
5Secretary of State for the Home Department v MB Same v AF  1 AC 440 It should be noted that the court ruled there was protection under art6 in civil procedure terms
7Roberts  2 AC 738
8Secretary of State for the Home Department v MB Same v AF  1 AC 440
9The Trial – Franz Kafka, Vitalis 2002