Britain is wrong to restrict social security payments to the wives of suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban members living there, the European Court of Justice ruled today.
The decision by the Luxembourg-based court - which interprets EU law and ensures its equal application throughout the European Union - could affect some of Britain's anti-terror laws.
The case was referred to the Court of Justice by Britain's House of Lords after the wives of suspects whom Britain says have links to Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban have appealed against restrictions on their benefits, claiming a violation of their rights.
They argue that while their husbands are subject to an asset freeze, they themselves are not and should continue to receive social security aid such as child benefit and housing support.
Under British anti-terrorism laws, the spouses of terror suspects may also see their social payments restricted.
The EU court ruled that the British treasury's interpretation that "by receiving state benefits the wives indirectly make funds available for the benefit of their husbands is not based on any danger whatsoever that the funds in question may be diverted in order to support terrorist activities."
"It is hard to imagine how those funds could be turned into means that could be used to support terrorist activities, for the benefits are fixed at a level intended to meet only the strictly vital needs of the persons involved," it said.
The British authorities had ordered that payments, such as child benefit, housing benefit and income support, should be withheld from people named on a UN terror list which requires an assets freeze.
They made an exception for the wives, but under certain conditions, including allowing only small cash withdrawals on the payments and requiring monthly accounts for all household expenditure.
To make cash available to their husbands was a criminal offence.