CLS conference addresses terrorism and the judicial system

The Center on Law and Security's April 15 conference, "The Courts and Terrorism: Transatlantic Observations," assembled an array of experts to address the challenges and disagreements involved in bringing alleged terrorists before judges and juries. The questions raised during the course of the day included whether and how national-security cases can be handled in the courts, how to achieve effective international cooperation when counterterrorism is necessarily global, and how to address notorious and ongoing problems with detention of suspects.

In his keynote, CLS fellow Peter Clarke, formerly the head of New Scotland Yard's antiterrorism branch and national coordinator for terrorism investigations, described the current landscape of terrorism and the courts. In the U.K., he said, the idea that most terrorism cases could be handled by ordinary criminal courts using due process was borne out by the fact that roughly 100 terrorists had been convicted in the past two years; he cited a 2007 survey suggesting that the U.K.'s Muslim community had more confidence in the courts than the population at large did.

Clarke expressed concern about the effects of highly critical U.K. media coverage of national-security cases: "I actually fear that the sustained assault upon the motives and integrity of government and law enforcement might be playing out in terms of giving us juries who are beginning to move from a position of absolutely proper skepticism to one of immovable cynicism about government and all its works in this area." This factor, he said, makes adherence to due process even more crucial. "Any departure from due process is actually a gift to those who want to undermine confidence in law enforcement and the judiciary," Clarke said. "The danger, I think, is of creating a vicious circle, a self-fulfilling prophecy that normal criminal courts cannot deal with terrorist cases. I believe they can, but they do need to adapt to be flexible and to deal with new threats and new challenges."