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UK’s use of Schedule 7 powers against David Miranda breached human rights obligations

Nearly two years after the High Court in London found that the nine-hour detention of David Miranda at Heathrow Airport had been lawful, the Court of Appeal has issued an [important rulingfinding the UK in breach of its international human rights obligations, particularly regarding the freedom of the press. In a rare move, the court issued a Declaration of Incompatibility on Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 – the closest an English court can get to striking a law down.

David Miranda, who is married to Glenn Greenwald, was stopped at Heathrow Airport on 18 August 2013 after visiting Laura Poitras in Berlin. At that time, Schedule 7 of Britain’s Terrorism Act allowed individuals to be detained at UK borders, without legal representation or the right to remain silent (since then the time limit has been reduced to six hours). These powers are supposed to be used only for the purposes of determining whether an individual is involved in the preparation or commission of acts of terrorism.

The use of Schedule 7 powers has long been controversial within the UK – not least because these powers, and their earlier iterations, are strongly linked to racial profiling and disporportionately impact particular groups. Nevertheless, their use against someone who was working alongside a journalist and carrying journalistic material – an act that moreover appeared to be condoned by the High Court – led to widespread criticism of the UK Government’s disregard for press freedoms. Today’s appeal ruling has borne out much of that criticism.

The ruling

David Miranda’s legal team challenged the 2013 High Court ruling on a number of grounds. Essentially, the Court of Appeal found that, while the police had acted according to the law when they used Schedule 7 against David Miranda, the law itself is flawed and does not meet the UK’s obligations under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression, including the freedom of the press. The court also found that the UK’s operating definition of ‘terrorism’ is too broad and in its present form threatens to restrict a range of entirely legitimate activity.

Read the full ruling:

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