The UK minister also stressed the need to “protect the rights of all our citizens, including all those threatened by terrorism”. Similarly, Schäuble suggested a new definition of freedom. “I conceive of the rule of law and our constitutional system as a defender of our freedom. To this system of rights belongs freedom from international terrorism,” he said.Since the 11 September 2001 attacks governments across the EU have sought to increase the powers of police and judges to detain suspects and question them for longer periods. But now a change in human rights law could be in the offing. “It is deeply disturbing but not surprising,” said Eric Metcalfe, director of human rights policy at Justice, a UK group which campaigns for legal and human rights. A case expected to come before the European Court of Human Rights later this year involving the Dutch government and an Algerian national could become a cornerstone in the attempt to alter human rights law to deal with the current terrorism threat. Mohammed Ramzy was charged with involvement in an Islamic terrorist group in the Netherlands and though he was subsequently acquitted, the Dutch authorities wanted to deport him. He has challenged this on the basis that he risks being tortured if he is sent back to Algeria. But the Netherlands, supported by the UK, Portugal, Lithuania and Slovakia, is asking the court to find in favour of the risk a terrorist suspect poses to the state over the risk of torture he faces if deported.Such unravelling of rights which have been built up over decades could be detrimental, said Paul Lemmens, director of the Institute for Human Rights at the University of Leuven. “The problem is that it might seem to be a good idea at the start but that in the end measures are so far reaching that innocent people are caught in it,” said Lemmens.Broadening out human rights to the right to life and protection from terrorism can also be a worrying development. “It is a distortion of the concept of right to life when all other rights have to be sacrificed,” said Metcalfe. “You could end up with a deeply repressive society where there is 24-hour surveillance and we are all safe but none of us is free,” he added.Peter Baauw, co-chairman of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, noted the reluctance of some EU states to agree legislation which would give a minimum set of rights to suspects. “A lot of countries have strongly opposed this and don’t want to make the guarantee… politically governments are much more in favour of fighting terrorism and making people frightened of it,” said Bauuw. Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s interior minister, in an interview with Stern magazine earlier this month questioned the principle of presumption of innocence for terrorism trials. “Would it be right to say that I would prefer to allow ten attacks to take place rather than try to prevent one person who maybe doesn’t want to commit an attack? In my opinion that would be wrong,” said Schäuble.John Reid, the UK’s home secretary, at the recent G6 meeting of interior ministers from the EU’s largest states in Venice, said that there was a gap between “the law of armed conflict, ‘the laws of war’, and the body of law which applies to civilian life, including criminal”. “We need to work to modernise the law – still protecting human rights, and still providing equity and justice – but reflecting the reality of the conflicts and struggles we now face,” said Reid. Many see this climate of fear continuing, especially if more attacks and threats of attacks occur, and with it further moves against human rights law. “I do fear that if there is another attack in the UK there will be a reaction to cut further rights,” said Metcalfe. But even if this climate of fear is short-lived, the consequences could be far-reaching, said Lemmens. “I’d like to believe it’s only a temporary thing but the problem is that it is difficult to change these laws once you give the powers to governments,” he said.