US detention camp Guantanamo Bay was yesterday condemned as a "shocking affront to democracy" by the minister in charge of Britain's legal system.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, voiced the most outspoken criticism of US terror policy yet made by a senior British minister.

The Argus is campaigning for justice for one of Guantanamo Bay's detainees, Omar Deghayes, whose family lives in Saltdean. Mr Deghayes has spent more than four years in the camp without being charged with an offence.

In a speech delivered in Sydney, Lord Falconer said: "It is a part of the acceptance of the rule of law that the courts will be able to exercise jurisdiction over the executive.

"Otherwise the conduct of the executive is not defined and restrained by law.

"It is because of that principle that the USA, deliberately seeking to put the detainees beyond the reach of the law in Guantanamo Bay, is so shocking an affront to the principles of democracy.

"Without independent judicial control, we cannot give effect to the essential values of our society."

Lord Falconer, who said he was expressing Government policy, made the comments in the Magna Carta Lecture, delivered annually at the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

It was the second time that the minister has spoken out about the controversial camp, where 450 terror suspects are thought to be detained.

In June this year the Lord Chancellor denounced the camp in Cuba as a "recruiting agent" for terrorism and described the existence of the base as intolerable and wrong. Prime Minister Tony Blair has been more muted, simply calling it "an anomaly".

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, who has backed The Argus campaign, said: "These comments represent a strengthening of the Government's position.

"But when may we expect the Prime Minister to condemn Guantanamo in similar terms?"

Amnesty International's Mike Blakemore said: "It is certainly true that Guantanamo is a shocking affront to the rule of law and it is encouraging to hear a senior UK Government figure finally use this kind of language.

"What we'd like to see is the UK Government as a whole pressing urgently for the camp's closure and for the release or fair trial of eight long-term residents of the UK still held without trial at Guantanamo.

"At the same time we'd like to hear Tony Blair and others making it absolutely clear that the UK is completely opposed to holding detainees outside of the rule of law in secret prisons."

Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister all along has said that Guantanamo is an anomaly which he believes should be closed and that the people there should be put before a tribunal."