Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the head of the UK Supreme Court, has responded to accusations that the Human Rights Act is hampering the fight against terrorism, and that “respect for human rights is a key weapon in the ideological battle”.
With reports this morning that the Government has written to High Court judges encouraging then not to delay a deportation flight to Bagdad, the speech presents a well timed defence of judicial independence.
The Gresham Special Lecture: The Challenges of the new Supreme Court is available in text and audio format. Lord Phillips used the opportunity to defend the judiciary in light of their regular use of the Human Rights Act to limit the effects of the anti-terrorism laws enacted by the government in the past decade, including controversial measures such as control orders and the Special Immigration Appeal Commission (SIAC). He said:
After 9/11 the British Government decided that the threat of terrorism in Britain was such as to amount to a public emergency threatening the life of the nation and purported, on that ground, to derogate from the Convention.
The authorities’ statutory power to detain pending deportation had to be motivated purely by the need to remove a subject from the United Kingdom, not to ensure his surrender into custody of the authorities operating in the receiving country. A subject detained not only for the purpose of effecting his removal from the UK, but also for the purpose of investigating whether acceptable arrangements could be made to return him into detention in the receiving country, was being detained unlawfully.
The claimant sought damages and declaratory relief against the defendant both at common law for the tort of false imprisonment and pursuant to s. 6(1) and s.7(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998, by reason of a claimed breach of Article 5(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights.
We posted this morning on the case of the “Pathway students”, in which two suspected terrorists used human rights law to avoid deportation due to fear of torture. Almost immediately after the decision was announced, the BBC reported that a “commission” is to be set up to address the future of the Human Rights Act. Has the case prompted a swift reconsideration of the Coalition’s position on human rights?
Probably not. It would appear that a commission to review the 1998 Act will be set up, as part of a wide raft of civil liberties reforms to be announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg later today. However, the timing of the announcement alongside the terror decision is probably coincidental and the commission is likely to have been planned since last week’s Coalition agreement.
Abid Naseer, Ahmad Faraz Khan, Shoaib Khan, Abdul Khan and Tariq Ur Rehman (Appellants) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent), Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 18 May 2010 – Read judgment
Two men suspected of attempting to mount a mass casualty attack can stay in the UK because they risked ill treatment if they were to be sent back to Pakistan. Rosalind English examines whether the extra territoriality reach of Article 3 makes a mockery of the core protections provided by European Convention on Human Rights.
Risk of torture
The alleged operatives appealed against deportation orders/refusals of re-entry on the grounds that they risked ill treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights at the hands of the Pakistani security services. Appeals against deportation were upheld because the reassurances as to the safety of their return was based on evidence that could not be disclosed in open court.
Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls (head of the Court of Appeal), has only been in post for six months but has already made significant waves, particularly in a series of judgments on the impact of terrorism law on civil liberties. In a speech yesterday, he discussed the experience of having his judgment censored during the Binyam Mohamed appeal.
He used an old Woody Allen joke to describe the experience, saying that his “favourite of his aphorisms is I’m not afraid of dying – I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” He continued that the this has some resonance for him now, as “I’m not afraid of changing my judgments – I just don’t want to be there when I do.”
The tone of the speech was light – Lord Neuberger has been praised for his unusually (for a judge) affable manner – but it does provide an opportunity to take stock of the Master of the Rolls’ eventful first six months in post.
An eventful six months
Lord David Neuberger turned down the chance to be an inaugural member of the UK Supreme Court in order to head up the Court of Appeal, the second highest appeal court. He had already been highly critical of the evolution of the House of Lords to the Supreme Court. Six months later, it already seems clear that the Court of Appeal under its new Master of the Rolls is to be an activist court, and particularly in relation to civil liberties.
We posted last week on the three provocative linked judgments, each written by Lord Neuberger and Lord Justices Maurice Kay and Sullivan, released as a triptych on the same day. The appeals all related to terrorism legislation, and each judgment sought to limit the ability of the Government and security services to keep evidence secret – from the public and even the parties to the litigation – in civil trials. A fourth, relating to control orders in a criminal context, was also released on the same day.
The security services will see the judgments as a fly in their ointment, arguing that the protection of the public from terrorism sometimes trumps the principle of open justice, that justice is done but is also seen to be done. The Government will say in the inevitable appeals to the Supreme Court that the Court of Appeal judgments have stymied their ability to fight terrorism, making it impossible in future for the security services to keep sensitive information from the public domain.
Censorship and the Binyam Mohamed affair
Whilst the three linked judgments were important, by far the most controversial incident involving Lord Neuberger’s court was the censoring of part of a judgment in an appeal relating to Binyam Mohamed (see our post). The court ordered that an email concerning MI5’s knowledge of Mr Mohamed’s alleged torture be disclosed. But part of Lord Neuberger’s judgment, the now notorious paragraph 168, was sharply critical of MI5’s involvement in the material events as well as their conduct in the litigation. Upon an application by the Government, the paragraph was briefly sanitised, and then eventually restored to its original wording.
Lord Neuberger spoke about the experience of “seeing one paragraph of a judgment being discussed in op-ed pieces, headlines. TV and radio bulletins and interviews, and, I imagine, the tweets.” He continued:
One thing the Binyam Mohamed case did teach me was that even a Master of the Rolls should not tempt fate. The day before we initially handed down judgment in the case, the Lord Chief Justice asked me how I was getting on with the new job after my first 20 weeks. Blithely ignorant of what was to happen the following day, tempting fate, I said that, for the first time I was beginning to feel in control of things. Let me tell you: one is never in control of things, above all when one thinks one is. As Woody Allen said, If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans. Although my favourite of his aphorisms is I’m not afraid of dying – I just don’t want to be there when it happens. I suppose that that has some resonance for me now: I’m not afraid of changing my judgments – I just don’t want to be there when I do.
The Court of Appeal has told the Government three times in 24 hours that it cannot keep evidence secret in civil proceedings. Similar reasoning was applied in three different contexts; the employment tribunal, a case relating to Iranian nuclear proliferation and a claim for damages for foreign torture.
An identically constituted court as in the Al-Rawi and others judgment had already held on the same day that evidence in a high-profile torture compensation claim should not be kept entirely secret.
In two further decisions, the same judges held that the Treasury must give sufficient disclosure to allow a bank accused of involvement in Iranian nuclear proliferation to not just deny but refute the allegations (Bank Mellat v HM Treasury), and that the Home Office must provide the “gist” of material it had wanted to keep secret from an employment tribunal (Home Office v Tariq). The court did not, however, go as far as saying that evidence can never be kept secret in cases involving national security.
All three cases revolve around the controversial “closed material procedure“, which allows certain evidence to be kept from the public and sometimes a defendant, and the use of “special advocates” (SA). As the Court of Appeal said in para 1 of the judgment, these procedures, developed as part of the fight against terrorism, represent “exceptions to the fundamental principle of open justice.” We have posted about the issues surrounding the special advocate system in relation to control orders (read post).
The cases higlight the strong line the courts have taken towards open justice since the AF case in 2009, a criminal matter in which the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) held that it was a breach of the right to a fair trial under Article 6 to hold someone under a control order without sufficient information about the allegations against him even where disclosure would compromise the country’s national security (read our case comment).
Al Rawi & Ors v Security Service & Ors  EWCA Civ 482 (04 May 2010) – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal has roundly rejected a request by the Government that evidence in a high-profile torture compensation claim should be kept secret from the public. It has also used the opportunity to emphasise that the interests of open justice would be serious compromised if this kind of request were ever granted in a civil case, even in very limited circumstances.
This compensation claim involves six claimants who were detained at various locations, including Guantanamo Bay and Bagram in Afghanistan, alleging various forms of mistreatment.
The judgment is the latest in a series of reverses suffered by the Government in matters involving Binyam Mohamed and others in relation to their alleged torture. In February the Court of Appeal ordered it to release an unredacted version of an email relating to the “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment which Binyam Mohamed received during questioning by American authorities.
In the latest judgment, the Court of Appeal rejected the previous judgment of Mr Justice Silber in the High Court. The issue was whether the judge was right to conclude that it is open to a court, in the absence of statutory authority, to order a closed material procedure for part (or, conceivably, even the whole) of the trial of a civil claim for damages in tort and breach of statutory duty.
The appeal judges concluded that it was not open for a court to order a closed material procedure, stating that:
M and Others v Her Majesty’s Treasury, Case C‑340/08, 29 April 2010 – Read judgment
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that social security benefits cannot be withheld from family members of those suspected of being associated with the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
The Government will probably now have to change the law, although The Times reports that the judgment will only affect less than a dozen people living in Britain.
The United Nations implemented measures shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks to freeze all assets of terror suspects. The UK had up to now taken a wide view of these measures, and had frozen not just the benefits of the suspects themselves, but also of their families.
The Treasury’s reasoning had been that money spent by, for example, a suspect’s wife on the running of the family household will be “for the benefit” of him. For example, if she buys food for a communal meal in which he participates, the money will have been spent for his benefit.
Lotfi Raissi, a pilot accused of being one of the 9/11 plotters, has been told by the Ministry of Justice that he is entitled to compensation for the effect that the accusations have had on his life. The announcement comes 9 years after his prosecution began.
Commentators have been scathing of the Government’s handling of the case. Afua Hirsch in The Guardian says that the case highlights “the unrestrained assaults on individual rights in response to allegations of terrorism and the long, drawn-out process of establishing the truth in the courts” and
The row over proposals to detain terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge takes on a surreal quality when looking at a case such as Raissi’s. The US authorities’ use of extradition proceedings – ensuring the co-operation of the CPS – became “a device to circumvent the rule of English law that a terrorist suspect could (at that time) be held without charge for only seven days”, the court of appeal said in a judgment of the case in February 2008.
Finally, eight years after he was released by order of the courts, the Ministry of Justice has said that he is to be regarded as “completely exonerated”. The length of time it has taken the Government to reach that conclusion is nothing short of disgraceful.
Maya Evans, an activist, is brining a judicial review against the Ministry of Defence in respect of the British Army’s detainee transfer policy in Afghanistan. It is alleged that British forces knew of the torture risks when handing over prisoners to the Afghan security services.
This is the latest in a series of cases where the Government have been criticised in the courts for defence policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, the House of Lords (the old Supreme Court) inAl-Skeinieffectively opened the door to such claims by foreign nationals by holding that the Human Rights Act applies outside of the UK.
The most notable recent example is the Binyam Mohamedcase, where the Court of Appeal heavily criticised the security services. Similar issues in relation to secret evidence appear to have arisen in Evans, with The Guardian reporting:
So concerned is the Ministry of Defence about the challenge to the practice, that it is insisting that evidence it had passed to her lawyers must now be suppressed.
As a result, skeleton argument from her lawyers – a document consisting of an outline of the case – includes a number of passages blacked out at the insistence of the MoD.
Following one long excised passage, the document revealed in court today reads: “The lessons from these shocking events is … investigation by the NDS [Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security] is obviously incapable of providing any satisfaction of the UK’s human rights obligations.”
Our posts on the Binyam Mohamed litigation can be found here, here, and here
Our case comment on R (Mazin Mumaa Galteth Al Skeini and others) v Secretary of State for Defence
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (‘the Joint Committee’) has released its report on the Annual Renewal of Control Order Legislation 2010, in which it heavily criticised the control order scheme. The scheme, introduced in 2005, allows courts to put terror suspects under restrictions resembling house arrest by placing them under curfews of up to 16 hours a day and, typically, constraints on their movements and communications. There were 12 suspects subject to control orders in December 2009.
Whereas the Joint Committee has previously criticised the scheme, this is the first time that it has recommended for it to be discontinued. The committee said:
We have serious concerns about the control order system. Evidence shows the devastating impact of control orders on the subject of the orders, their families and their communities. In addition detailed information is now available about the cost of control orders which raises questions about whether the cost the system is out of all proportion to the supposed public benefit. We find it hard to believe that the annual cost of surveillance of the small number of individuals subject to control orders would exceed the amount currently being paid to lawyers in the ongoing litigation about control orders. Finally, we believe that because the Government has ignored our previous recommendations for reform, the system gives rise to unnecessary breaches of individuals’ rights to liberty and due process.
David Pannick QC says in an article in the Times that the controversy surrounding the Binyam Mohammed case has been a disaster for the security services and has highlighted the need for more effective supervision:
The sorry saga of the Binyam Mohamed litigation has required the judiciary to strip away evasions and half-truths by the Security Services that have inflicted a body blow on their own reputation.
The courts, here and in the US, have performed their constitutional role of identifying and publicising unlawful acts of torture. There is now an urgent need for effective supervision and accountability of our intelligence services. Existing methods of parliamentary control have plainly been inadequate. As MI5’s in-house lawyer acknowledges in John le Carré’s novel The Russia House, his “old law tutor would have turned in his grave” at the lack of legal controls.
The full article is available here. You can read our analysis of the case here.
R(on the application of Binyam Mohamed) v Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs  EWCA Civ 65
This appeal was brought by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (“the Foreign Secretary”) against a decision of the Divisional Court to include seven short paragraphs in the open version of a judgment, notwithstanding the fact that the Foreign Secretary had started in a number of Public Interest Immunity Certificates that such publication would lead to a real risk of serious harm to the national security of the UK.
The Government has lost its appeal (see the BBC report) against the Divisional Court’s decision to order it to release an unredacted version of an email relating to the “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment which Binyam Mohamed received during questioning by the Americans. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had previously argued that to release the full email would damage national security. The full email can now be read on the FCO website.
Her Majesty’s Treasury (Respondent) v Mohammed Jabar Ahmed and others (FC) (Appellants); Her Majesty’s Treasury (Respondent) v Mohammed al-Ghabra (FC) (Appellant); R (on the application of Hani El Sayed Sabaei Youssef) (Respondent) v Her Majesty’s Treasury (Appellant)  UKSC 2
The Supreme Court has ruled that the Treasury cannot make orders to freeze the assets of terror suspects. The Terrorism (UN Measures) Order 2006 and the 2006 al-Qaeda and Taliban (UN Measures) Order were made under section 1 of the 1946 UN Act in order to implement resolutions of the UN Security Council, and were found by the Court to be unlawful.
As a preliminary point, the Court considered that a press report identifying M would engage article 8. In a separate judgment, the Court repealed all of the suspects’ anonymity orders, finding that these would not breach the suspects’ Article 8 rights to privacy.
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