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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Terrorism Reviewer: Control Order successor “broadly acceptable”

352676_old_ball_and_chain_series_3David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of terrorism legislation, has released his first report into the operation of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures, introduced in 2011 with the aim of protecting the public from persons believed to have engaged in terrorism, but who can neither be prosecuted nor deported. 

TPIM subjects in 2012 were subject to restrictions including overnight residence at a specified address, GPS tagging, reporting requirements and restrictions on travel, movement, association, communication, finances, work and study. Like their predecessor, control orders, TPIMs have been highly controversial and, as Anderson points out, “vigorously attacked – from opposite directions – by civil libertarians and by the more security-minded.” However, his conclusion is that they are broadly acceptable:  Continue reading

Chakrabarti debates Clarke on secret courts bill

ClarkerabartiThe Constitutional and Administrative Bar Association (ALBA)  hosted an invigorating debate on Tuesday night, pitting Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke against Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, over the question of Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) in civil claims, as proposed in the Justice and Security Bill.

The Bill is currently going through the parliamentary process, having reached the report stage in the House of Commons on 4 March 2013. Of particular note to those with an interest in human rights are the proposals to introduce CMPs into civil damages actions, where allegations such as complicity in torture by the UK intelligence agencies are made.

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Semi-naked RocknRoll pics can’t be published in Sun, rules High Court

Kate Winslet and Ned RocknrollRocknroll v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2013] EWHC 24 (Ch) – Read judgment

Earlier this month, Rocknroll came to the Chancery Division.  Mr Justice Briggs set out his reasons yesterday for granting Kate Winslet’s new husband an interim injunction prohibiting a national newspaper from printing semi-naked photographs of him taken at a party in July 2010 and later posted on Facebook.

In Edward Rocknroll v. News Group Newspapers Ltdthe Judge decided that the Claimant was likely to succeed at a full trial in establishing that his right to respect for his family life (protected by article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and his copyright over the photographs should prevail over The Sun’s right to freedom of expression (protected by article 10 ECHR).  As such, the photographs cannot be published nor their contents described pending a full trial.

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High Court refuses to condemn US drone strikes

military-drone-spy-008R (Khan) v Secretary Of State For Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs [2012] EWHC 3728 (Admin) (21 December 2012) – Read judgment

In this unsuccessful application for permission to apply for judicial review, the Claimant sought to challenge the Defendant’s reported policy of permitting GCHQ employees to pass intelligence to the US for the purposes of drone strikes in Pakistan.  The Claimant’s father was killed during such an attack in March 2011.

The Claimant alleged that by assisting US agents with drone strikes, GCHQ employees were at risk of becoming secondary parties to murder under the criminal law of England and Wales and of conduct ancillary to war crimes or crimes against humanity contrary to international law.  The Claimant sought declaratory relief to that effect and also sought a declaration that the Defendant should publish a policy addressing the circumstances in which such intelligence could be lawfully disseminated. [paragraph 6]

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Deport first, appeal second

horseIn a wide-ranging interview with the Sunday Telegraph, the Prime Minister has previewed a new ‘deport first, appeal second’ approach to deportation cases:

… in specific response to the never-ending Abu Qatada case, and vexatious use of the European Convention on Human Rights, the PM is looking at a new and radical option. “I am fed up with seeing suspected terrorists play the system with numerous appeals. That’s why I’m keen to move to a policy where we deport first, and suspects can appeal later.” Under this new arrangement, deportees would only be able to appeal against the decision while still in this country – thus suspending their removal – if they faced “a real risk of serious, irreversible harm”.

It seems to me that this approach is anchored in last month’s European Court of Human Rights (Grand Chamber) decision in DE SOUZA RIBEIRO v. FRANCE – 22689/07 HEJUD [2012] ECHR 2066 (summary here). See in particular paragraphs 82

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Secret Courts remixed: any better than the original? – Angela Patrick

This coming Wednesday sees the end of the first stage of the Justice and Security Bill’s passage into law. The Bill which would introduce Closed Material Procedures (CMP) – where one side of a case is excluded with his legal team and represented by a security cleared special advocate in cases involving national security – has become widely known as the Secret Courts Bill. Its progress has been closely scrutinised in this blog over the past six months.

As it completes Third Reading and passes to the House of Commons, we reflect on last week’s Lords amendments to the Bill. While there are still issues ripe for discussion at Third Reading, it is broadly accepted that the key Lords votes have passed.

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Debating the Abu Qatada affair – Gavin Phillipson

I watched the BBC’s flagship political debate Question Time last week and saw a panel of senior politicians from the three main parties plus UKIP debate the implications of the Abu Qatada affair with the audience. You can watch it here (starts at 8 mins 27 seconds) and I urge you to do so. I found the debate illuminating and alarming in equal measure; it made me reflect seriously on how precarious Britain’s interwoven system of international and domestic protection for human rights may actually be these days.

It seems a long time ago that we naively thought that repeal of the Human Rights Act was “unthinkable” – now withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) itself must seemingly be taken as a serious possibility, depending on the outcome of the next election.  The failure of the HRA to implant itself into our political, still less our popular culture was starkly apparent from the debate: I don’t think anyone even mentioned it. A statute that should surely be an important reference point in any discussion of a contemporary UK human rights issue has become so marginalised and misunderstood that it simply didn’t come up. Can one imagine American – or German – politicians discussing such an issue without mentioning their constitutional Bills of Rights – or Canadians, without mentioning the Charter?

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Abu Qatada: in the public interest

You may have heard that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) decided on Tuesday that Abu Qatada, an alleged terrorist who has been detained for the best part of the last seven years awaiting deportation to his native Jordan, cannot be deported. There would be a real risk, ruled SIAC, that he would face a flagrant denial of justice in his ensuing trial.

Jim Duffy has already commented on the case here, but I thought it would be useful to look at some of the commentary which followed the decision. A bit like the latest Israel-Gaza escalation, controversial human rights decisions now elicit an almost instant (and slightly sad) our-camp-versus-theirs reaction. Following a decision each ‘side’ trundles into action, rolling out the clichés without thinking very hard about the principles. The Prime Minister himself somewhat petulantly said he was “fed up” and “We have moved heaven and earth to try to comply with every single dot and comma of every single convention to get him out of this country.”

It is easy to moan about inaccurate coverage (I often do). But in this case, I do think the strong, almost visceral, reaction to the decision is justified. Leaving aside the slightly mad tabloid anti-Europe or effectively anti-justice coverage, it is understandable that people are uneasy and upset about this decision to keep a suspected terrorist within our borders, and then release him. But that doesn’t mean the decision is wrong.

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Abu Qatada: Preventing a flagrant denial of justice

Othman (Abu Qatada) -v- Secretary of State for the Home Department (appeal allowed) [2012] UKSIAC 15/2005_2 – read judgment

Angus McCullough QC appeared for Abu Qatada as his Special Advocate in these proceedings before SIAC. He is not the author of this post.

Earlier today, Abu Qatada was released from Long Lartin prison following his successful appeal before the Special Immigration Appeal’s Commission (SIAC). Qatada was challenging the decision to deport him to Jordan, where he faces a retrial for alleged terrorism offences.  

For most of the last decade, Abu Qatada has been detained pending deportation to his home country. At his two original trials, he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to full life imprisonment with 15 years’ hard labour.

In his latest challenge to his deportation, SIAC concluded, as the European Court of Human Rights had in May 2012, that due to the real risk of a flagrantly unfair trial in Jordan, Qatada could not be deported there.  Continue reading

Extraordinary rendition, forced labour, and evidence obtained by torture – Antoine Buyse

Building on Abu Qatada

There are three cases, among the many decided by the Court in the past few weeks, which I would like to highlight. They deal with testimony potentially obtained through torture, forced labour and extraordinary rendition respectively. 

The first is the case of El Haski v. Belgium (available only in French). It deals with a terrorist suspect against whom evidence obtained in Morocco during legal proceedings there (following the 2003 Casablanca bombings) was used in court in Belgium. It was unclear whether such evidence was in fact obtained by means of torture. The Court held that it was sufficient for exclusion of such evidence from trial in an ECHR state party if a suspect could show that there was a “real risk” that such evidence had been obtained by treatment contrary to Article 3. The case builds on the recent Othman (Abu Qatada) v. the United Kingdom judgment, from January of this year. In this case, such a real risk existed. The refusal by Belgian courts to exclude the evidence thus led to a violation of the right to a fair trial (Article 6 ECHR).

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Abu Hamza wants his passport back

UPDATED | I have been sent the Statement of Facts and Grounds for Judicial Review on behalf of Abu Hamza, dated 25 September 2012. These are open court documents and have been obtained directly from the Royal Courts of Justice.

Abu Hamza’s extradition has been put on hold whilst this Judicial Review claim is being dealt with this coming Tuesday [update - I understand that another issue is being dealt with on Tuesday, and that the passport point is not the one which has held up the extradition]. I think this may be a ‘permission hearing’ (the first hurdle a JR claim has to surmount) although it may well be a ‘rolled up’ hearing, which means the permission and substantive aspects will be dealt with all at once. A few points to note (nb. this is my quick summary, and is only of course of one side of the case – Abu Hamza’s):

This particular claim is very limited. He applied for and was granted a passport on 11 November 2011 and although this was sent on 20 November 2011 to Belmarsh Prison, where he was located, the passport has not yet been given to him. He has also requested photocopies, to no avail.

He claims that the failure to provide him with his passport or copies of it is contrary to Home Office Guidance Note 20, as well as potentially Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to private and family life) and the EU Citizen’s Directive 2004/38/EC. For what it’s worth, this is fundamentally a legality challenge under ordinary public law principles – the human rights aspect of it is likely to be in the background. So although it would technically be correct to say he is challenging this decision on human rights grounds, that aspect is only likely to play a small part in the claim.

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Bye bye Abu Hamza – but why did it take so long?

The European Court of Human Rights has refused the request of Mustafa Kamal Mustafa (Abu Hamza) and four others to refer their extradition appeal to its Grand Chamber for another hearing. This means that their case, which was decided in the Government’s favour in April (see our post) is now final. There are therefore no remaining barriers to their extradition to the United States to face terrorism charges.

But why has it taken so long to decide the case? The men argued that if extradited there was a real risk that their article 3 (torture and inhumane treatment) rights would be contravened by being held at a ‘Super-max’ prison and by having to face extremely long sentences. The extradition requests were made by the United States in July 1999 (Adel Bary), May 2004 (Abu Hamza) March 2005 (Barbar Ahmad), August 2005 (Haroon Rashid Aswat) and September 2006 (Syed Tahla Ahsan). In other words, a long time ago.

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The triple Olympic detainee

Othman, R (on the application of) v Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) & Ors [2012] EWHC 2349 (Admin) – read judgment 

Angus McCullough QC represented Abu Qatada as his Special Advocate in the SIAC proceedings.

Along with many others, today I find myself emerging from an Olympic haze. And alongside that morning-after blur comes a nagging feeling that it is time to get back to blogging. Why not start with a man who has watched the last three Olympic Games during what the High Court describes as an “enormously lengthy” period of  detention without charge, and whose last bail application was refused as it would be too difficult to keep track of him during the 2012 Olympics?

The last two or so weeks have been a wonderful time to be in London. Aside from the slightly naff closing ceremony, everything about the sporting carnival has been positive. It has also been a great time to be working in Temple, which has been converted into ‘Belgium House‘ for a fortnight.

Before returning to unlawful detention and Abu Qatada, a personal reflection. The first time I ever visited the Inner Temple was for a scholarship interview which took place on 9 July 2005. I will always remember the date because I had come to London for the interview on 6th July, the day on which the Games were awarded to London. The following day, I was on a bus on the way into town reading a newspaper headline about the Olympics, when I read on the BBC website that there had been a bomb on a tube. I jumped off the bus and flagged a taxi going the opposite direction, and the taxi driver told me he had just seen a bus blow up in Tavistock Square.

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Locals’ Olympic missile site challenge rejected

Harrow Community Support Ltd v. Secretary of State for Defence [2012] EWHC 1921 (Admin), Haddon-Cave J, 10 July 2012, read judgment

In 776BC, the Olympics consisted of one day’s running and wrestling. A hundred years later, chariots and single horses arrived, thanks to the influence of Phaidon of Argos (a big shot in seventh-century Greece), and I dare say the civic pride which each participating Greek city-state brought to the Games was already running high. But I don’t suppose either Phaidon or Baron de Coubertin would have predicted the move which triggered this piece of litigation. The MoD decided to site a missile launcher and military personnel on the roof of a Council tower block in Leytonstone during the Olympics. Like all military hardware, it has a nice acronym, GBAD, being a Ground Based Air Defence system.

Anyway, a residents’ association formed by residents of Fred Wigg Tower, 15 storeys and containing 117 flats, decided to challenge the MoD. As their petition put it, “We, the undersigned residents of FWT, Montague Road, Leytonstone E11 3 EP, do not want explosive missile systems placed on the roof of our home”. Nor, I suppose, do any of us, but some of us may want someone else to have missile launchers on their roofs.

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