UK Liberty

Suspected terrorist not allowed to learn AS level Biology or Chemistry

Posted in control orders by ukliberty on July 22, 2008

A Control Order case: AE v Home Secretary ([2008] EWHC 1743 (Admin)):

AE, who is subject to a control order made pursuant to the provisions of sections 2 and 3 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (“the PTA”), appeals against a decision of the Secretary of State for the Home Department (“the Secretary of State”) made on 18 September 2007 refusing to permit him to attend the Regional College in the town in which he lives (“the specified college”) during the 2007-2008 academic year in order to undertake AS level courses in Human Biology and Chemistry. It is common ground that the purpose of this appeal is now to permit AE to carry out this course in the 2008-2009 session.

As I have explained in paragraph 10 an issue to be determined on this appeal is whether the Secretary of State’s action in refusing to allow AE to do both or either of these AS level courses was proportionate. Applying with appropriate amendments, the very well-known proportionality tests set out De Freitas v Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Agriculture [1999] 1 AC 69, 80 C-H, I conclude that:

(a) the objective of the Secretary of State in seeking to prevent or restrict involvement by AE in terrorism related activity is sufficiently important to justify limiting the right of AE to education;

(b) the decision by the Secretary of State in refusing to allow AE to do these courses was rationally connected to the objective and was not based on arbitrary, unfair or irrational considerations. There was no cogent contention to the contrary; and

(c) the decision of the Secretary of State refusing consent was no more than was necessary to accomplish the objective of seeking to prevent or restrict involvement by AE in terrorism related activity. As I have explained AE contends that the “primary” purpose for him in doing these two AS Level course in the words of his witness statement “was an effort to start on the ladder to my medical studies”. In paragraph 49 above, I have explained that if AE had studied, as he contends was the case, “Chemistry and Human Biology to a higher level in Iraq to a higher level than the AS Level offered by the College”, there would be alternative ways in which he could be admitted to study Medicine at a university in the United Kingdom. If AE’s contention is incorrect, this would raise very serious doubts about his motive for wishing to study medicine as I have explained in paragraph 50 above.


A few people have linked to this post with comments along the lines of, “new banned activities include A level Chemistry and Biology”. Lee Griffin is concerned that our education system improves the capabilities of young terrorists. All valid points, but perhaps a little unfair.

I confess I initially felt the same way but reserved my opinion until I had a chance to think about it overnight. Do read the judgement, there do seem to be some grounds for thinking AE’s motives aren’t entirely noble:

I concluded that the Secretary of State had reasonable grounds to believe first that AE had received terrorist training and had taken part in terrorist activities; second that he was also involved in providing support for the Jihadist insurgency in Iraq and in radicalising individuals in the United Kingdom; third that he is a well-known figure in the Iraqi Kurdish community and had expressed extremist views; fourth that he has been in contact with Ansar Al Islam (“AI”) associated Iraqi Kurds and others with extremist connections and fifth that he is a leading figure in Islamist extremist circles in the town in which he lives.

The Secretary of State places reliance on the evidence of witness X who concluded that the practical experience that AE would obtain whilst doing each of these courses would give him the confidence to work safely with chemical and biological substances and increase his confidence and ability to produce chemical or biological substances. By completing the proposed AS level courses, AE would then become better able as a result of the experience acquired on the course to assist in the production of chemical or biological substances and in that sense he would become a competent laboratory technician.

That said, it is important to note that AE has not been convicted of any crime: receiving terrorist training is a crime, for example, that you might have thought AE would be charged with if someone believed he had taken part in it. I also get a bit confused by things like this:

The Secretary of State is better placed than the court to decide the measures that are necessary to protect the public against the activities of a terrorist suspect and, for this reason, a degree of deference must be paid to the decisions taken by the Secretary of State.

The reason for my confusion is that I don’t think that any of the Home Secretaries in recent years have been better placed than the courts to decide anything!

Of course it is important to note that I do not, and probably will never have, the full story.

I must say also that it is a bit unsettling about the prevalence of “closed judgements” (I am completely ignorant of the consequences of this for the suspect) and ‘expert’ witnesses who don’t seem to know many specifics (see para 17 for example) about the case.

In conclusion, and weighing up the information I have available, I would say there seem to be grounds for concern about AE but we should also be concerned about how much deference is paid to the Home Secretary, how much we rely on expert witnesses about generalities but not specifics, and what effect closed judgements will have on suspects.

Update 2

179 hits on this article but only 15 clicks on the judgement.

A bit disappointing!


5 Responses

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  1. […] allowed to study chemistry/biology by Sunny on 23rd July, 2008 at 8:44 am     ukliberty highlights this example of Jacqui Smith banning a student identified as ‘AE’ from studying AS level Biology or […]

  2. […] Studying chemistry and human biology […]

  3. […] the news that the Home Secretary has banned a suspected terrorist from studying AS level Biology or Chemistry, Sunny asks… Hmmm… what other subjects could be […]

  4. Wanderer said, on July 24, 2008 at 1:58 am

    Reading is an even more important skill for a potential terrorist. So what is next, only allowing children to learn to read if they have been approved by the State? Putting out the eyes of unauthorized readers?

    That’s been tried.

    By Pol Pot.

    Is that really who we want to emulate?

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