Saleyha Ahsan | 04.03.2009 10:56
Jacqui Smith Disregards Judge’s Decision
It’s not everyday that you hear that the Home Secretary accused of ‘conduct comprehensively unlawful’ and has demonstrated ‘an abuse of power’, but any visitor to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) last Friday would have heard just that. Powerful words were being said by defence barristers in SIAC, accusing Jacquie Smith in essence of having broken the law. On Thursday night the Home Secretary ordered the detention of five men who, through the day in SIAC, had fought and subsequently won their right to remain under bail conditions in their homes until a further hearing date.
It was a dramatic 24 hours in SIAC, Britain’s most secret of courts. From the moment the hearing for five men, all under bail conditions facing deportation orders to Algeria and Jordan began, proceedings were wholly unusual, in this already ‘Kafkaesque’ commission, as described by Dinah Rose QC, barrister to the appellants.
The men, known publicly only as, Y, U, Z, BB and VV were having their cases heard in SIAC after an application to revoke bail had been made by the Home Secretary following the recent announcement by the House of Lords of their decision that three of the men, U, BB and Mr Othman (Abu Qatada) could be deported back to their countries of origin on the grounds of safety on return. Although these men are not in anyway connected to Abu Qatada, they are being treated in the same way. All of the men involved have been accused of being a threat to national security based on secret evidence which has never been heard by either the appellants themselves or their lawyers. A return to their countries of origin will result in detention and a high risk of torture.
The application to revoke bail had been made by the Secretary of State on the grounds that she has a suspicion of a heightened risk of absconding for all of the five men. No evidence was produced in open court to back this theory. However secret evidence was used in a closed session with reference to Mr U. Jacqui Smith in essence wants the men to be back behind bars as their deportation cases go through the relevant courts, be it the High Court, Court of Appeal or ultimately the European Court. This could take years and if the Home Secretary is successful in her bid, the men will be back where they started in this never ending saga of hijacked liberties.
After Mr Justice Mitting deliberated on the facts presented to him on Thursday in SIAC, he announced an adjourned hearing date, due to the Home Secretary and her team trying to push through detention without following correct SIAC protocol, and that in the interim the men would remain under bail conditions. U and VV, present in SIAC, were able to hear the news for themselves that they could home. Each had with them a packed bag just in case Mitting accepted the Home Secretary’s argument. It was joked that they would now have to drag their luggage back home with them. At 4.30 pm all other appellants were also informed that they would not be detained whilst awaiting the adjournment date of the 11 March. Relief and reassurance rang round that common sense and adherence to decent law was prevailing. Safe in the knowledge that U and VV were going home, and after lengthy goodbyes, friends and solicitors left the men in SIAC awaiting their transport home with their immigration escorts. What happened next was unprecedented. The drivers and the immigration escorts must have been told that the final destination of the day would never be the home addresses. The end point would be, regardless of the decision announced by SIAC, Belmarsh prison. When everyone had left the building VV and U were called back into an empty SIAC courtroom, where they were both told they were under arrest. The initial reaction from the men was that this was some sort of a mistake or a bad joke. They soon realised it wasn’t. The Home Secretary had ignored the judgement given by Mitting as it had not complied with her overall plan to detain. So she over ruled him, brushing his word aside with her right to detain. In her witness statement it states that although the Home Secretary has the right to arrest, she had chosen instead to go through SIAC. It appears SIAC did not produce the outcome she wanted and so carrying out what was described as a disproportionate act, not based on any new evidence, she arrested the men. Dinah Rose QC called it having ‘two bites of the cherry’. When she had awoken that morning, the Home Secretary knew regardless of what Mitting would decide, U, Y, VV BB and Z were going to prison.
Word soon spread that up and down the country the homes of the rest of the men were being visited by police and immigration officers. For married family men Z and BB, at least ten police in full battle gear arrived at their doors and arrested them. For Z it was at least two hours later after the other men had been taken when the police arrived for him. Yet again no sign of him absconding, even when he knew they were coming for him. The heavily pregnant wife of Z could not contain her distress and argued for her husband to be left alone. It brought back all the previous nightmares when she and her children have seen Z dragged off by police. The daughter of VV kept asking where her father was and all his wife could say was that he was in the mosque and was coming home soon. When the police arrived for Y, they banged on the door. He had barely opened the door before it was forced open and he was pushed back into the room by one police man. In what was described as a menacing approach, two police man and two immigration officers circled him, arrested him and then put him in hand cuffs. The two cars to collect him had been parked some distance away from his house, so when he was led away by his four burly escorts, with hands behind his back, curtains in nearby houses were twitching as neighbours watched the action.
An immediate judicial review was called for on Friday morning, with the men’s solicitors working away into the small hours to prepare for what Gareth Peirce, solicitor to some of the men, later described as ‘a new huge battle, the like of which has never having happened before’. In SIAC’s courtroom the mood was charged and angry. Disbelief at such an action was evident amongst friends, solicitors and barristers. By law it states that the Home Secretary has to present the men to SIAC within 24 hours. A hearing was called at 10.30am and the men would be present. Ironically it turned out that Z who had the furthest distance to travel was in court, the other 4 who were in Woodhill and Belmarsh were not in court but were able to see proceedings through a web link. Apparently transport to drive them to SIAC from Belmarsh, which is just on the other side of London, was not available.
Mitting addressed this action with his ‘High Court Judge’ hat on, as a judicial review. After consideration he ruled that Y, Z, BB and VV be released. The relief of all in court, bar Jacqui Smith’s team, was expressed through excited nods of approval of the decision. Any joy however was limited when it was stated that U would remain in detention based on closed evidence.
The four men watching from Belmarsh and Woodgreen on the screen digested the news within the court. As Mitting made his announcement a mixed display of emotion was seen, with relief for themselves but sadness for their counterpart, U, who was having to stay behind. The men stood up and hugged him for an extended period before being escorted out of the room. When U was told by the judge he would be detained, what more could he say other than the muted ‘thank you’ barely audible in court. A slight, slim man who through the years of detention has prematurely lost all his hair. An image of three bald heads on the wide screen monitor displayed a picture of young men turned old through the injustice they have suffered over the years. Y lost all his hair in three months of his initial detention.
Jacqui Smith’s eternal cry on these men being a threat to national security is wearing thin. As the men have said time and again, bring forward the evidence and fight it out in a normal court of law. This is not happening. Instead secret courts and secret evidence are in play. Jacqui Smith’s action last week was a blatant disregard and disrespect for the judgement passed by a senior Home Office vetted Judge. Such practices are a threat to the civil liberties of this country, far more damaging than anything these men have ever done.
On the adjourned hearing dates spreading over this week and next the issue of revoking the bail for all the men will be heard. Once again they face being detained without charge, indefinitely whilst fighting deportation orders. The House of Lords in the past have already voted against indefinite detention. It appears now that the Home Secretary is applying for the same objective but under a different pretext of fear of absconding.
We have been hearing the tired old song, of these men being a threat to national security, for quite some time now. None of these men have been found to be involved with any of the terror attacks that have taken place since 2001. Two were involved in the ricin trial, in which they were acquitted. The trial that turned out to be a series of lies and conspiracies and was used as ammunition to rally support in the United Nations by Colin Powell for a war in Iraq. Or is it more to do with the fact that these men have now been part of this dance with consecutive Home Secretaries since 2001, costing tax payers a vast amount money, which if calculated could go into billions. The SIAC fiasco last week alone has cost thousands of pounds. If Jacqui Smith knew she was going to arrest the men come what may-it was an expensive gamble on her part, which of course will be paid for by the British tax payer .
The men have been branded in the media as a reason why we all need to be afraid thus allowing further encroachments on civil liberties which suits the government’s purpose. This has been hungrily propagated by the salivating tabloid press who have constantly demonised and branded the men as ‘terrorists’. To now turn around and say these men are indeed innocent and can live in peace would be the decent thing to do. But that requires decent and brave people to make that move.
However a more realistic and honest version of the story can be identified in Stephen Bells’ cartoon in the Guardian last week, which says it all. Binyam Mohammed is making his way down the steps of the aeroplane on arrival to the UK. On the tarmac a number of people are waiting to greet him. Jacqui Smith is one of them and she is holding up a black hood. The caption reads ‘Welcome to your second home’.