As 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”:
Our 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.
I 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 works. Enjoy (if you have access).
Here is a taster:
ZZ v Secretary of State for the Home Department  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.
The 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?
J1 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).
Othman (aka Abu Qatada) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  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.