Britain's Justice Department was wrong to ban the BBC from filming an interview with a terror suspect held for seven years without trial, judges ruled Wednesday.
The broadcaster said it wanted to film an interview with Babar Ahmad in prison to cover public interest issues, including the psychological and physical impact of prolonged detention without trial.
Ahmad, 38, has been detained in Britain since 2004 on a U.S. warrant. He is accused of running websites used to raise money for terrorists. He has not faced charges in Britain and has been held without charge for the longest period of any British citizen detained since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
In December, lawyers for Justice Secretary Ken Clarke defended his refusal to grant the BBC request, saying the general policy was to block such interviews with prisoners.
The lawyers argued that filming was not necessary to inform the public about Ahmad's story, and that granting the request would set a precedent for other interviews. It also risked causing distress and anger to victims of terrorism, they said.
But on Wednesday, two High Court judges sided with the BBC, ruling that Ahmad's case was exceptional and that the interview ban was a "disproportionate interference" with the right to freedom of expression.
Lawyers for the BBC and Ahmad had argued that a televised interview would allow the public to assess his credibility and show the impact of prolonged incarceration.
"He has aged far more than the number of years that have passed since he was first detained," said Phillippa Kaufmann, who represented Ahmad. "This is what written communications cannot adequately convey."
Ahmad, a British Muslim, is awaiting the outcome of a European court hearing on his extradition to the U.S. He is accused in the U.S. of supporting al-Qaida, Taliban and Chechen militants between 1998 and 2003 by operating a website that raised funds for terrorism and provided instructions on carrying out attacks. He has denied any wrongdoing.
The Ministry of Justice said it accepted Wednesday's ruling, but cautioned that the case was an exception to the rule and should not be seen as a precedent for other cases.
It also blamed lengthy backlogs at the European Court of Human Rights for the delay in the decision on Ahmad's extradition to the U.S., saying it was unacceptable and undermined the Strasbourg court's authority.