Security certificates

The ruling, however, was suspended for one year to allow parliament to amend the law, as requested by government lawyers.

The controversial security certificates, which permit secret court hearings, undisclosed evidence and indefinite incarceration, have been enshrined in Canada's immigration act since 1978.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, they were used to jail five suspected terrorists, including the appellants, Moroccan Adil Charkaoui, Algerian Mohamed Harkat and Syrian Hassan Almrei.

Canadian politicians said the measures were absolutely necessary to thwart possible terrorist attacks.

But critics argued they breached civil liberties.

"Discriminatory"

The appellants' lawyers asked the court to "strike down" the law because the certificates circumvented normal judicial process and were unconstitutional, as well as "discriminatory."

Paul Copeland, Harkat's lawyer, said in June 2006 the government's refusal to divulge secret evidence in such cases, much of it gleaned from foreign intelligence sources, "emasculated" defenc lawyers.

Government lawyers argued the unusual secrecy in the cases prevented possible disclosure of intelligence and spy techniques to terrorists abroad.

The court ruled this secrecy violated the suspects' constitutional right to a fair hearing.

Further, they found the slow and secretive process of determining whether security certificates are reasonable "cannot be justified as minimal impairments" of a person's right to a fair and speedy judicial hearing.

The lengthy review process "violates the guarantee against arbitrary detention," the justices wrote.

Hunger strike
 
Harkat and Charkaoui were previously released on strict bail conditions, which include electronic monitoring, after several years in a Canadian prison.

Hassan Almrei and another man, Egyptian-born Mahmoud Jaballah, remain in custody.

They have been on a hunger strike for more than two months to protest their conditions at a Kingston, Ontario, detention centre.

A fifth detainee, Egyptian Mohammad Mahjoub, was ordered released last week.