There were two grounds for appeal: that the law enacting the legislation discriminated unlawfully against foreigners; that the derogation from the ECHR, permitting indefinite detention, was unjustified because no threat existed "to the life of the nation". The court as a whole agreed with the first premise but not the second. Lord Hoffman, however, dissented on the second ground. His contribution to the judgement is well worth reading, particularly this paragraph:
95. But the question is whether such a threat is a threat to the life of the nation. The Attorney General’s submissions and the judgment of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission treated a threat of serious physical damage and loss of life as necessarily involving a threat to the life of the nation. But in my opinion this shows a misunderstanding of what is meant by "threatening the life of the nation". Of course the government has a duty to protect the lives and property of its citizens. But that is a duty which it owes all the time and which it must discharge without destroying our constitutional freedoms. There may be some nations too fragile or fissiparous to withstand a serious act of violence. But that is not the case in the United Kingdom. When Milton urged the government of his day not to censor the press even in time of civil war, he said:
"Lords and Commons of England, consider what nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governours".
To my mind this is absolutely right. If "terrorists" succeeded in mounting a major atrocity in the UK (or indeed here in New Zealand) it would undoubtedly be a tragedy. It would not however, terminate the continued existence of the nation, its institutions and values. Elsewhere, Hoffman contrasts the present situation with the threat posed by Spain in the 16th Century - had Spain succeeded in overwhelming England, this would have placed the nation under reactionary Catholic rule, very different from the prevailing Anglo-Norman values of England at that time.
The majority did not concur with this view - to do so would rather pull the rug from under the "war" on "terror" and judges tend to prefer the scalpel to the bludgeon. The finding (by 8-1) that the law was discriminatory on grounds of nationality is less controversial. I fear the UK governmment will now proceed to enact arbritary detention for UK nationals as well as foreigners.