The Government's anti-terrorism laws were said to be in tatters last night after a High Court judge ruled that a key element was an "affront to justice".

Control orders were introduced after an attempt to hold suspects without trial at Belmarsh jail collapsed following a challenge under the Human Rights Act.

The orders, pushed through Parliament at the last minute a year ago, allow the Home Secretary to place individuals under house arrest, but yesterday, Mr Justice Sullivan said the orders contravened the same act and offered no more than a "thin veneer of legality".

He said the orders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 meant the "Secretary of State always wins" and added: "To say that the Act does not give the respondent in this case a fair hearing would be an understatement."

His comments came as the first British citizen to be subject to an order, a 22-year-old man from Yorkshire who cannot be named, challenged it in the High Court.

The man was stopped at Manchester airport last March after attempting to fly to Syria from where, security services claimed, he was planning to join rebels fighting in Iraq.

The law allows for a review of the decision taken by the Home Secretary but does not allow any new evidence to be submitted.

Large parts of the evidence can be sealed from the respondent and only viewed by a special advocate, appointed for the individual by the attorney general, who cannot pass any information back to him.

The judge said that amounted to an "affront to justice". He added: "The court would be failing in its duty under the Human Rights Act, a duty imposed upon the court by Parliament, if it did not say, loud and clear, that the procedures under the Act are conspicuously unfair."

The control order cases involve individuals outside the group of original "Belmarsh" detainees. In addition, however, 29 foreign suspects, including some of the Belmarsh detainees, are facing Government attempts to deport them under immigration law, as threats to national security.

Four of the 29 have said they will leave voluntarily but others are challenging the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, in the courts. Mr Clarke said last month that there were now 11 people subject to control orders, three of them British.

Despite his ruling, the judge said he was unable to lift the orders. The Home Office said it would appeal. "The Government believes that control orders are the best way of addressing the continuing threat posed by suspected terrorists who cannot currently be prosecuted or, in respect of foreign nationals, removed from the UK."

But Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the human rights group, Liberty, said the orders amounted to punishment without trial. "This completely scandalous system is definitely in tatters tonight. The Government now has no alternative but to go back to the drawing board."

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