A key clause in the Terrorism Act 2000 is incompatible with the European convention on human rights, the master of the rolls, Lord Dyson, has declared as part of a court of appeal judgment.
The decision came in the case of David Miranda, who was detained at Heathrow airport in 2013 for carrying files related to information obtained by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The court of appeal’s judgment on Tuesday will force government ministers to re-examine the act.
Dyson, who made the ruling along with Lord Justice Richards and Lord Justice Floyd, said the powers contained in schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 were flawed. Schedule 7 allows travellers to be questioned to find out whether they appear to be terrorists. They have no right to remain silent or receive legal advice, and they may be detained for up to nine hours.
“The stop power, if used in respect of journalistic information or material is incompatible with article 10 [freedom of expression] of the [European convention on human rights] because it is not ‘prescribed by law’,” said Dyson, who is the most senior civil judge in England and Wales.
The judgment continued: “If journalists and their sources can have no expectation of confidentiality, they may decide against providing information on sensitive matters of public interest.
“The court of appeal ruling rejects the broad definition of terrorism advanced by government lawyers. The correct legal definition of terrorism, the court of appeal has now ruled, requires some intention to cause a serious threat to public safety such as endangering life.”