When she was fifteen Shamina Begum slipped unimpeded out of the country to join ISIL. Only her image, walking with two school friends, was captured as she made her way through Gatwick Airport onto the aircraft. Her return to the UK, five years on is proving more difficult.
After the collapse of ISIL’s stronghold in Raqqa, Ms Begum appeared, heavily pregnant, in a camp in northern Syria, held by the Syrian Democratic Forces. In an interview she said she wanted to return but did not regret having gone to Syria.
On 19 February 2019, the Secretary of State, Mr Javid, informed Ms Begum’s family he considered she posed a threat to national security and issued an order depriving her of her nationality.
As was her right, Ms Begum issued an appeal against the deprivation order to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). Permission to enter the UK to pursue the appeal was refused by the Secretary of State.
CF v The Ministry of Defence and others  EWHC 3171 (QB) – read judgment
Angus McCullough QC of 1 Crown Office Row acted as Special Advocate in this case. He has nothing to do with the writing of this post.
The High Court has ruled that in a case against the state which did not directly affect the liberty of the subject, there was no irreducible minimum of disclosure of the state’s case which the court would require. The consequences of such disclosure for national security prevailed.
Factual and legal background
The claimant, Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, had made a number of claims against various government departments, alleging complicity in unlawful and arbitrary detention and inhuman and degrading treatment and torture on the part of British authorities in Somaliland. He also sought damages for trespass, breach of the Human Rights Act 1998, and misfeasance in public office. As Irwin J said,
The remedy sought is not confined to ordinary compensation, but extends to damages for breach of the Convention and to declaratory relief, which in the context of this case, and if the Claimant succeeded, would represent an important marking of unlawful behaviour: a matter in which there is a legitimate public interest.
CF v Security Service and others and Mohamed v Foreign and Commonwealth Office and others [ EWHC 3402 (QB) – read judgment
The High Court has today made the first court ruling on the use of the Justice and Security Act 2013 in a civil claim for damages.
In a ruling on preliminary issues, Irwin J made a declaration that the government can make a closed material application to the court in this case. The Court also ruled on PII. The following summary is based on the Court’s press release.
CF and Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed are both British citizens of Somali descent. CF left the United Kingdom in 2009, Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed having left in 2007. They were both detained by the Somaliland Authorities on 14 January 2011. They were then detained until removal to the UK on 14 March 2011. Each claims that they were unlawfully detained, tortured and mistreated during the period of detention in Somaliland. Continue reading →
Ignaoua, R (On the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 2512 (Admin) – read judgment
The Government’s termination of existing judicial review proceedings via certification under the Justice and Security Act was “troubling” but lawful. Parliament’s intention was clear, even though there were no new rules in force yet.
The claimant was challenging her exclusion from the UK on national security grounds in proceedings commenced in 2010. The proceedings were terminated under special powers conferred by the Act. The challenge could proceed instead before the Special Immigration and Appeals Commission (SIAC), which has all the powers of the divisional court to conduct a judicial review of his exclusion.
The question before the court was whether the certificate had been lawfully made and not an abuse of process. Continue reading →
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).
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.
AHK and Others v The Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1117 (Admin) – Read judgment
Secrecy and secret justice are rarely out of the public eye. The Queen’s speech included plans to allow secret hearings in civil claims, at a time when their use is highly controversial. The government argues they are necessary to safeguard national security. Civil liberties groups and even the Special Advocates who help administer them, regard them as a bar to real justice and fair hearings.
So it seems appropriate at this time that the High Court has handed down an important decision on the use of Closed Material Procedures (CMP) in Judicial Review claims relating to naturalisation (the process by which foreigners can be ‘naturalised’ as British citizens). In simple terms, this is a variety of procedure where the government can rely on evidence which it has not disclosed to the opposing party, in a closed hearing. In the closed proceedings, the Claimants are represented by Special Advocates, who are subject to strict rules relating to what they can and cannot tell their clients.
In W (Algeria) (FC) and BB (Algeria) (FC) and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 8 – read judgment
The Supreme Court has made a difficult decision. It is sometimes said that hard cases make bad law: this ruling may prove to be a good example of that cliché. The court was not being asked whether the Special Immigration Appeals Committee (SIAC) was legally allowed to issue orders that means evidence “will forever remain confidential” but rather the question was, “can SIAC ever properly make an absolute and irreversible order.”
The principles of open justice would tend towards the answer being no – but the court prioritised the welfare of the witness and allowed the order.
W (Algeria) (FC) and BB (Algeria) (FC) and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 8 – read judgment
As we reported in our summary of the decision earlier, the Supreme Court has confirmed that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) has the power to order that certain witness evidence may be produced in conditions of absolute and irreversible secrecy.
A brief recapitulation: the appellants were resisting return to Algeria, a a country where torture has been systematically practised by the relevant authorities. The respondent secretary of state had obtained assurances from the Algerian Government that the appellants’ rights would be respected upon return, but, in appeals to the Commission, the appellants wished to adduce evidence from witnesses with inside knowledge of the position in Algeria that those assertions would not be honoured, and that torture and ill-treatment of the returnees was likely. The witnesses were not prepared to give evidence in the appeals unless their identity and evidence would remain forever confidential to the Commission and the parties to the appeal. The Court of Appeal held that despite the breadth of the Commission’s powers under Rule 39(1) of the SIAC (Procedure) Rules 2003, it was not open to it to give such guarantees. The Supreme Court overturned that ruling, declaring that SIAC could give an absolute and irrevocable guarantee of total confidentiality to a witness who was prepared to testify that the deportee was likely to be subjected to torture or ill-treatment upon return despite contrary assurances from the authorities in the country of return.
65 responses to the Justice and Security Green Paper consultation, which proposes introducing “Closed Material Procedures” – secret trials – into civil courts, have been published on the official consultation website. According to the site there are potentially 25 more to come.
Whilst it is a good thing that the responses have been published at all, the low number of responses is a little depressing. In a country of over 60 million people, and given the proposals could amount to a significant erosion of open justice, 90 responses seems a little thin. Granted, many of the responses are from organisations or groups of individuals, such as the 57 Special Advocates who have called the proposals a “departure from the foundational principle of natural justice“. But the low number surely represents the fact that as yet the proposals have failed to capture the public imagination.
OTHMAN (ABU QATADA) v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 8139/09  ECHR 56 – Read judgment– updated (7/2/2012): Abu Qatada is expected to be released from Long Lartin maximum security jail within days. the special immigration appeals commission (Siac) ruled on Monday that Qatada should be freed, despite the Home Office saying he continued to pose a risk to national security.
Angus McCullough QC appeared for Abu Qatada as his Special Advocate in the domestic proceedings before SIAC, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. He is not the author of this post.
The House of Lords had themselves overruled the Court of Appeal; and the Court of Appeal had overruled the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). Thus, the Court of Appeal and the ECtHR ruled in Abu Qatada’s favour; whereas SIAC and the House of Lords ruled against him. As all of this suggests, the matter of law at the heart of the case is not an easy one.
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).
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.