Barristers tell Parliament that some GCHQ mass surveillance is illegal

Edward Snowden.Two barristers have advised a Parliamentary committee that some mass surveillance allegedly undertaken by the UK’s security services is probably illegal. Jemima Stratford QC and Tim Johnston’s advice (PDF) was commissioned by the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones

You may ask why an Parliamentary group on drones is getting involved in the GCHQ surveillance debate, itself kickstarted by the revelations by Edward Snowden (pictured). The slightly tangential answer is that the committee is concerned about the legality of data being passed to the United States for use in drone strikes.

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National Security trumps disclosure of Litvinenko secret documents, rules High Court

LitvinenkoSecretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs v Assistant Deputy Coroner for Inner North London [2013] EWHC 3724 (Admin) read judgment

1 Crown Office Row’s Neil Garnham QC and Neil Sheldon acted for the claimant in this case (the Secretary of State for the FCO). They had no involvement in the writing of this post.

The Foreign Secretary successfully appealed against an order for disclosure of secret documents to the Inquest for the death of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko

The Foreign Secretary  in February 2013  issued a certificate of Public Interest Immunity (PII), on the grounds of national security and/or international relations, to prevent the disclosure of a representative sample of Government documents  relating to the 2006 poisoning. In May 2013 the Coroner for the Litvinenko Inquest (Sir Robert Owen) partially rejected that certificate and ordered the disclosure of gists of material relating to some of the key issues surrounding the death(read ruling). In this judgement, a panel of three judges of the High Court unanimously quashed that ruling.

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Personal consultation with solicitor must be offered before terror questioning, rules High Court

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 10.30.23Elosta v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2013] EWHC 3397 – Read Judgment

The High Court has held that a person detained for questioning under the Terrorism Act 2000 is entitled to consult with a solicitor in person prior to answering questions.

The right to consult with a lawyer before one is interviewed by law enforcement officers might be fairly characterised as a “pop culture” right. Reality television shows, crime dramas, even block buster films (I’m thinking Neo in the first Matrix film - pictured) have all played a part in ensuring that the right to legal advice in that context is ingrained in the consciousness of the masses.

This case dealt with a specific and rather technical variation on that theme.

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Another hall of mirrors human rights story from the Telegraph

Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 10.46.13Yesterday saw another poor piece of human rights reporting from the Telegraph, again from Home Affairs Correspondent David Barrett. Strasbourg human rights court threatens key counter-terrorism powers. It is a typical piece of hall-of-mirrors reporting; all of the basic elements are there but presented in a distorted and inaccurate way.

The piece is about the case of Sabure Malik, a British investment banker who was stopped by police in 2010 at Heathrow on his way back from an organised package tour to undertake the Hajj. Full details of his case, which is supported by Liberty, are in the Euoprean Court of Human Rights’ admissibility decision here. It was granted permission to proceed in May 2013, well before the David Miranda controversy which took place in August.

I’ll take this shortly.

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Man cannot be stripped of British citizenship, rules Supreme Court

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Secretary of State for the Home Department v Al -Jedda [2013] UKSC 62 - Read judgment / press summary

In late 2007, the Secretary of State for the Home Department made an order depriving Mr Al Jedda, who had been granted British citizenship in 2000, of his citizenship, under the British Nationality Act 1981. Section 40(4) of the Act prohibits the deprivation of nationality where the effect would be to render the person stateless.

Not being a citizen of any state can have profound effects on a person’s ability to live a normal life, including being unable to obtain travel documents and facing difficulty settling and obtaining work, education and healthcare. However, the Secretary of State considered that taking away Mr Al Jedda’s nationality was conducive to the public good.

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More developments under Schedule 7

img_6780706_340Sylvie Beghal v Director of Public Prosecutions, [2013] EWHC 2573 (Admin)read judgment

In a judgment with implications for the detention of David Miranda, the High Court has today dismissed an appeal against a conviction for wilfully failing to comply with a duty imposed by virtue of Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000.

The Court rejected the submission that the Schedule 7 powers in question violated the Appellant’s right under Articles 5, 6 and 8 of the ECHR. However, the Court urged consideration of a legislative amendment introducing a statutory bar to the introduction of Schedule 7 admissions in subsequent criminal trials.

Part of the following report is taken from the Court’s press summary, part is based on the judgment itself.

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Miranda case shows we need more secrecy laws… or does it?

David MirandaAs the August news lull continues, the David Miranda controversy is still troubling commentators – see Daniel Isenberg’s superb roundup. In the past week or so, an interesting symmetry has arisen between those defending and criticising the Police’s actions.

The Police’s critics say the detention was probably unlawful, but even if it was lawful it shouldn’t have been as, if this non-terrorism case can fit within existing anti-terror law, then terrorism powers are too wide. This more or less fits with my view, although I am not sure yet about the lawfulness of the detention. A reverse argument is made by the Police’s defenders: the detention was probably lawful, but if if it wasn’t then it should have been, as we need to be able to prevent these kind of dangerous intelligence leaks from occurring. See e.g. Matthew Parris and to an extent Louise Mensch.

Into the second category steps Lord Ian Blair, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner. He has told the BBC that the threat from international terrorism was “constantly changing” and there was a need to “review the law”:

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David Miranda – Remember his name.

David MirandaOur attitude to anti-terror policing is very strange indeed. In many ways, it is like a magician’s trick. We (the public) turn up at the show with the full intention of suspending our disbelief so as to be entertained and entranced. The magician pulls the rabbit out of the hat, or makes the Statue of Liberty disappear. We applaud, we are entranced.

But we know , somewhere in the back of our minds, that we are being fooled.

As with our safety from terror. We are happy because major terrorist attacks in the UK or US are thankfully rare. We are told about countless attacks which have been thwarted. We applaud, we are entranced. But we know, somewhere, that there must be a price.

That price is our civil liberties. More accurately, that price is the civil liberties of others, who we don’t know but whose faces occasionally drift through the public conscience. Binyam Mohamad, who was tortured by the CIA, apparently with collusion by our own Security Services. Shaker Aamer, who has been detained in Guantanamo Bay without charge for almost 12 years. And it is no secret that many anti-terrorism laws are draconian and involve a huge potential for abuse.

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The Times on Abu Qatada

Muslim cleric Abu Qatada prepares to board a small aircraft bound for JordaI have an opinion piece in today’s Times on Abu Qatada. It is behind a paywall so I can’t reproduce it here, but you can probably guess from the title what my theme is: Abu Qatada’s case shows the human rights system worksEnjoy (if you have access).

Here is a taster:

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European Court of Justice grapples with secret evidence in UK immigration case – Dr Cian Murphy

topsecretfile ECJZZ v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EUECJ C-300/11 – Read judgment

The European Court of Justice has, in recent days, handed down a judgment that hits several hot buttons: UK immigration law, EU human rights, secret evidence, and suspicions of terrorism. In ZZ the Court has had to rule on the use of secret evidence before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC).

Mr ZZ is an Algerian citizen. However, of crucial importance to his case is that he is also a French citizen, and therefore as an EU citizen, he is entitled to travel to and live the UK. Mr ZZ’s wife is a UK citizen and he was resident in the UK for a over a decade until 2005. In that year he travelled to Algeria but, upon return, was refused admission to the UK on national security grounds.

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Denounce the ECHR to deport Abu Qatada… You cannot be serious! – Richard A. Edwards

mcenroeThe Guardian reports that Prime Minister Cameron is considering denouncing the ECHR on a temporary basis in order to facilitate the deportation of Abu Qatada. As tennis legend John McEnroe might have put it ‘you cannot be serious!’ In order to remove one man from the jurisdiction the government is contemplating removing the protection of human rights for all. One suspects that this announcement by Downing Street was little more than ‘dog-whistle’ politics with the local elections looming next week. But what if the government is really serious? Two quick thoughts come to mind.

Firstly, the UK is on the face of it able to denounce the ECHR under the terms of Article 58, though see below. But even after a denunciation the ECHR will remain fully applicable for six months. Presumably the government would wait for the six months to expire. It would then seek within domestic law to remove Qatada. As this would also require the suspension or repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 this would require an Act of Parliament. No doubt a political and constitutional storm would break as a result. This would of course not be the end of the matter because the decision would be judicially reviewable, no doubt under an enhanced form of anxious scrutiny. How further forth would the government be then?

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Last week not a good one for Theresa May: not just Abu Qatada


132957J1 v  Secretary of State for the Home Department, 27 March 2013 – read judgment

A UKHRB editor, Angus McCullough QC, was a Special Advocate for J1 before the Court of Appeal, but not in SIAC below. He had nothing to do with the writing of this post

Hot on the Home Secretary’s loss of the Abu Qatada appeal, a reverse for her in another deportation case about someone whom the Court of Appeal described as “an important and significant member of a group of Islamist extremists in the UK,” and who was said to have links – direct or indirect – with men involved in the failed July 21 2005 bombing plot.

The general contours of the case will be familiar to Abu Qatada watchers, with claims under Articles 3 and 6 of the ECHR  amongst others – that if J1 was returned to his country of origin (here, Ethiopia), his human rights would not be respected. There are however a number of interesting features about this decision of the Court of Appeal; firstly, it reversed a decision of  the Special Immigration Appeals Commission against J1 on Article 3 (recall the heightened regard for SIAC as a specialist tribunal in the Abu Qatada appeal) , and secondly (in dismissing the Article 6 claim) it illustrates graphically some of the dilemmas facing Special Advocates when representing their clients in the imperfect world of “closed procedures” (a.k.a secret trials).

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Court of Appeal rejects latest attempt to deport Abu Qatada

121113AbuQatadaMay_6898438Othman (aka Abu Qatada) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EWCA Civ 277 – read judgment

The Home Office last night assured its 70,000 Twitter followers that “it is not the end of the road”.  Yet by the time she had reached page 17 of the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of her latest attempt to deport Abu Qatada, it might well have seemed that way to Theresa May. 

In November, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled that Qatada could not be deported to face a retrial for alleged terrorism offences due to the real risk of “a flagrant denial of justice”.  Read my post on that decision here.  Yesterday, Lord Dyson – the Masters of the Rolls and second most senior judge in England and Wales – together with Lord Justices Richards and Elias, rejected the Home Secretary’s appeal.

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Exclusive: Special Advocates’ open letter and briefing note on secret trials

TopSecretFileOn 26 March 2013 the House of Lords will consider the amendments to the Justice and Security Bill made by the House of Commons.  We have reported on this blog on the Bill at various points in its progress, including on the Special Advocates’ views on the proposals. 

Here, now, is the latest contribution:  a Briefing Note in relation to two key amendments which will be considered next week (covering letter here).  First, whether closed material procedures should only be used as a last resort, if a fair trial cannot otherwise be achieved.  And second, whether the interests of open justice should be weighed in the balance by a Court in considering whether to order a closed procedure.

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Historical first as Supreme Court boots Iranian bank out of secret hearing

TEST CARD1 Crown Office Row’s Robert Wastell is acting for the Treasury in this case – he has had no part in writing this post. 

Extraordinary developments in the Supreme Court today as the court, for the first time in its history, conducted a secret hearing during which one of the parties, an Iranian Bank, was not allowed to take part. Full background to the case, Bank Mellat (Appellant) v HM Treasury (Respondent) is here.

If I could just repeat that for effect: the Government, which is being sued, gets to stay in court whilst the person doing the suing – and their lawyers – have to leave. The judges then hear security sensitive evidence which is potentially central to the case. Whilst one side is absent. No wonder Lord Neuberger, who as Master of the Rolls robustly blocked an attempt to introduce closed material procedures in civil trials via the back door (see his judgment in Al Rawi e.g. at para 30), sounds so pained in his statement. Curiously, this final hard-hitting paragraph was sent by the Court to its public email list but was left off the statement published on the Court’s website:

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