Home Secretary ignores Court decision, kidnaps bailed men and imprisons them in Belmarsh

27.2.09

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, appears to have declared war on the government’s own secret terror court, overruling decisions made by judges in the Special Immigration Appeals Court (SIAC) yesterday, and — in what can only be described as an act of executive fiat — unilaterally revoking their bail, kidnapping them on their way home from the London courtroom (or in raids on their homes) and imprisoning them in Belmarsh high-security prison in south east London.

After the Law Lords’ ruling last week that Abu Qatada and two Algerians — known only as U and RB — can be deported to Jordan and Algeria, the government petitioned to revoke the bail conditions of U and RB, as well as three other men — known only as Y, Z and VV — but failed to inform their lawyers until Wednesday, and then gagged them, preventing them from discussing the cases until yesterday, when they mounted a challenge at a SIAC hearing in London. An observer noted that the government’s claims that it now had the right to revoke the bail of the five men was “comprehensively trashed” by Dinah Rose QC, representing the men.

More importantly, the SIAC judges ruled that no further action in respect of the men’s cases was to be taken until next week at the earliest, and scheduled a full hearing for next Thursday morning.

However, when the two men who attended the hearing — U and VV — were driven away from the court, expecting to return home, as ordered by the SIAC judges, they were, instead, delivered to Belmarsh prison, where they were joined by the other three men, who had been seized in raids on their homes. This was clearly planned by the Home Secretary in advance, even though she had informed neither the men’s lawyers nor the SIAC judges. The first the lawyers heard about it was when one of the men’s wives rang, inquiring why he had not yet returned home.

SIAC is meeting again today, and the whole situation threatens to turn into a colossal headache for the government. The men’s lawyers will argue that the government was in contempt of court, and it is expected that Mr. Justice Mitting, the chief judge, will not be happy to hear that the government behaved as though SIAC’s decisions were irrelevant, and, moreover, that the Home Secretary then acted in a manner that would have pleased King John, in those days before England’s nobles forced him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, establishing for the first time that the king had no right to imprison his subjects “except upon the lawful judgment of his peers or the law of the land.”

Today, we seem to be experiencing a new version of the divine right of kings: the self-declared right of an elected government official to ignore her own judges, and to cast foreign “terror suspects” into the modern day version of the Tower of London — Belmarsh prison — with no regard for the laws established over the last 794 years.

UPDATE at 1 pm: In a humiliating defeat for the government, the SIAC judges have just ruled that all of the men — except U — are to be released from Belmarsh and allowed to return home under previously agreed conditions. The humiliation of Jacqui Smith will hopefully soon be announced in greater detail.

UPDATE at 3 pm: I’ve just heard from observers that the judges’ decision to order four of the five men to be sent home was chosen as an alternative to the lawyers’ recommended course of action: nailing Jacqui Smith for contempt of court and kidnap.

SIAC will now be meeting next Wednesday (March 4) to discuss the European Court of Human Rights’ objections to the British government’s use of Special Advocates in closed court sessions, and the rules preventing the Special Advocates from reporting any information whatsoever to either the accused or their lawyers.

A hearing to review U’s bail conditions is scheduled for March 5, and another hearing, examining the government’s request to revoke all the men’s existing bail conditions and to imprison them in Belmarsh by legal means is scheduled for March 11.

Please come along if you can. Hearings start at 9.30 am. SIAC is located at Field House, 15 Bream’s Buildings, London EC4A 1DZ. A map is here.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

For other articles dealing with Belmarsh, control orders, deportation bail, deportation and extradition, see Deals with dictators undermined by British request for return of five Guantánamo detainees (August 2007), Britain’s Guantánamo: the troubling tale of Tunisian Belmarsh detainee Hedi Boudhiba, extradited, cleared and abandoned in Spain (August 2007), Guantánamo as house arrest: Britain’s law lords capitulate on control orders (November 2007), The Guantánamo Britons and Spain’s dubious extradition request (December 2007), Britain’s Guantánamo: control orders renewed, as one suspect is freed (February 2008), Spanish drop “inhuman” extradition request for Guantánamo Britons (March 2008), UK government deports 60 Iraqi Kurds; no one notices (March 2008), Repatriation as Russian Roulette: Will the Two Algerians Freed from Guantánamo Be Treated Fairly? (July 2008), Abu Qatada: Law Lords and Government Endorse Torture (February 2009), Ex-Guantánamo prisoner refused entry into UK, held in deportation centre (February 2009), Britain’s insane secret terror evidence (March 2009).

16 Responses

  1. septicisle says...

    Incredible. Will be posting on this later.

  2. Des Howells says...

    I have long found it totally incredible that a country which professes to be democratic and have values. could detain men, never question them, use secret evidence in closed sessions from which the defendants and their lawyers are barred. The defendatns hgave no chance to defend themselves and the lawyers are at a disadvantage becuase they do not know what the evidence is.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    The following report from last week’s hearing, which I think gives a good insight into the process from the point of view of an observer, was written by Umar Abdullah, who runs a great site called Help The Prisoners:
    http://www.helptheprisoners.org/
    (posted here with permission)

    Mr Smith goes to SIAC

    After reading so much about the Special Immigration Appeals Commission procedure, Control Orders, Detentions, Bail Revocations, Secret Evidence and Closed Sessions, a good friend of mine advised me that it was possible to attend in person. Having had a holiday from work, I decided to experience these myself from the public gallery so was present for the hearing on the 27th February for five detainees, U, Z, BB, Y and VV. Unfortunately, due to restrictions of the court, and allegedly their protection, I cannot reveal their names.

    For the uninitiated, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, or SIAC, was established in order to handle cases where the secretary of state herself wishes to see individuals deported on the basis of national security or public interest. These courts are heard in a small room off Chancery Lane, and anyone may attend them whenever the court is in session.

    So what happens? Allow me to share my own experiences. I entered the building and had gone through the normal security procedures, no more intrusive than you would expect at an airport. This involved emptying one’s pockets and walking through a scanner. After being waved on, a security guard gruffly told me, “second floor”. However, after responding in perfect English that I was looking for the SIAC court he realised I was not here for my own hearing and instead I made my way to the basement.

    I was there fairly early, so the court was closed but after a period of ten minutes myself and four others were given entry to the court, and I made my way towards the back of the gallery following the crowd. The court is a modern one, though fairly cramped, and to the court’s credit I must say the chairs were comfortable.

    About fifteen minutes after this, a number of solicitors and barristers made their way into the courtroom. The court procedure already seemed fairly informal, with no silks or wigs in sight. It was shortly later that I realised I had made my first faux pas. A gentlemen asked me whether I was with the secretary of state’s department, and noting the disgust on my face asked me to move to the other side of the gallery. I did so, but at the expense of a good seat, the other side being almost full with supporters. I would estimate approximately 15 supporters had made the journey, some from as far as Brighton. I was disappointed with the lack of showing from the Muslim community, however (as far as I could ascertain I was the only Muslim male there), although there were plenty of Muslim women. I was extremely pleased to see how much support these men have outside the community. It showed to me that this issue is not one that affects just Muslims, but instead one that affects a lot of people who are concerned at the direction that this country’s laws and freedoms are heading.

    Shortly afterwards, the “trial” began. At the “All rise”, I stayed seated, not wishing to show the courts the authority they so dearly would love to have. I do believe, though, that my silent protest was obscured by the large public gallery, but I suppose it’s the thought that counts. There was firstly the matter of the detainees. One was present in the courtroom, behind a Plexiglas screen with slits in it so that he could hear the proceedings, and was flanked to the right of him with agents from the UK Border Agency, dressed in full regalia. It was not quite “Silence of the Lambs”, but it was close enough. I can only imagine how the couple of journalists present would perceive this man, and how much they would look behind the glass and see the man behind it. For the majority of the trial, he stayed studious and quiet, concentrating intently on the proceedings.

    The debate was around the four other detainees, who had been taken in the night without their solicitors being contacted until much later. In a couple of the cases, they had been taken to prison after being told the van would be taking them home following a trial yesterday. They were now in different prisons — three in Belmarsh with one in Wood Hill. The Judge explained the court would have difficulty hearing their cases in person, so asked whether videolink would be acceptable. It was eventually agreed that it would be.

    So, after this was completed a time was given of 12-2 for the video linkups. This made me concerned that I would miss Friday prayers. However, thankfully it transpired that the proceedings were wrapped up early. Before that time (11am), a “closed session” took place. This is where everyone except for the judge and elements from the Home Office are asked to leave the courtroom. With the door firmly locked, the black box of “secret evidence” was discussed. The Detainee, Solicitor and Barrister are not permitted to hear this evidence. After half an hour of this, we were called back into the courtroom.

    By this time, the video linkup had arrived and due to defence solicitors wishing to consult with their clients, I was asked to leave the courtroom having not been “vetted for visiting.” Though disappointed not to hear the men speak, I do understand their reasons for doing so.

    I went to make a phone call, returning to a somewhat more elated crowd. Four of the men (all except for “U”) had been ordered by the judge to be returned to their homes. “U” was then given the verdict of having his bail revoked and he was to be returned to prison. After some more complex legal arguments regarding Judicial Reviews and more alleged breaches of the Human Rights Act by the Home Secretary than there are Detainees, Mr Mitting, the trial judge, issued his judgement explaining his decision. There were no real details to be gleamed, other than “on the basis of the closed evidence, I revoke the bail of U”. This was in essence the commentary, cloaked in legalese.

    As the judgement was being read, on the video linkup a sad scene was evolving. Of the three men on the screen, two were given the all-clear to go home whilst Detainee U would be staying. The men all seemed resigned to their respective fates, and as a testimony to the character and virtues of Detainee U he was able to give smiles and laughs to the two who would be going (VV and Y), and they shared hugs and salutations before being led out to the left, leaving the solitary figure of U alone. U’s face displayed a look of acceptance, realising that yet again he had been detained without hearing any of the closed evidence against him. I would think that years of these sorts of events have made him harden, and he had already prepared himself mentally to abandon hope; it has a habit of turning to despair when you hope too much. I would like to see the Home Secretary in court one day herself, to see the damage she is doing to real people with feelings, just like you and me, rather than meeting with her spin doctors to decide upon vote-winning strategies for an increasingly right-wing British public.

    It was on this note that I left the courtroom and made my way out into the world of an oblivious population, saddened that the black arts of the SIAC would again go unreported and the latent British public (including the majority of Muslims in this country it seems) would again ignore one of the most dangerous assaults on rights and freedoms in the modern age.

  4. Umar says...

    Hi andy,

    Thanks so much for posting this, I must emphasise to anyone else reading this to take the time off work one day next time there is a hearing and make your way down there. It really opens your eyes into what is happening with this country. I always knew (sort of) what went on, but to see someones liberty taken away from him for no reason that he can challenge was just crushing.

    To everyone reading, please do contact all the people on control orders and help publicise what is happening as much as you can.

    WS & take care

    Umar

  5. Nell says...

    Is there any news about Jarallah al-Marri? Maybe I’m paranoid, but I wondered if the British authorities detaining him was in any way co-ordinated with the US government, given the big recent development in his brother’s case: The Obama Justice Department brought new charges against Ali al-Marri, but in a civilian court.

  6. Ahmed balogun says...

    It comes as no surprise because the general wholesale failures, ineffectiveness of institutions and unaccountability of both ministers and public officials in the UK, has been aided and fanned by journalistic laziness and national media failures as eyes and ears of the public, to report serious violations and breaches of the public trust.

    We have for several years been saying that the UK has been violating the Convention Rights with the aid of dishonorable Lawyers and a Corrupt Judiciary. If not, so how is it that after suffering Unlawful Imprisonment as a consequence of Judicial Corruption at the hands of Justice Toulson on behalf of his brother, Alan Toulson, (or brother’s Law Firm interest. Reynolds Potter Chamberlain) the victim (Mr. Grant) was unlawfully denied redress due him in law by UK Judicial authorities, in clear violations of both national and international obligations to respect Human Rights.

    Whilst every body seem to find it convenient chasing and proclaiming injustices occurring outside the UK, the huge violations taking place under their very noses, which has long existed, is far more severe, because before you ask others to clean out their house, you clean yours out first so you can have a moral leg to stand on. The reality of all that hypocrisy is what you are now witnessing for your self!

    Ahmed Balogun
    Secretary
    Campaign for Truth & Justice

    http://www.ctjnet.co.uk
    info@ctjnet.co.uk
    02085164668
    07950827015

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Nell,
    Jarallah was deported and is now back in Qatar, but I have no further information about whether his detention in the UK was coincidental. I have to say, however, that the timing seems suspicious to me. I’ll try and find out more.

    For other readers, the story of Jarallah’s detention is here:
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/02/25/ex-guantanamo-prisoner-refused-entry-into-uk-held-in-deportation-centre/
    And I’ll be posting an article about Ali al-Marri tomorrow.

  8. Eleanor Boyd says...

    Dear Andy
    Thanks for this brilliant article. I posted it on Care2 and there has been a good response. Put it on facebook as well but not sure so much how to publicise it there.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Eleanor,
    Thanks for the kind words. Always good to hear from you — and thanks for posting on Care2, where there seems to be a large community of readers who are concerned about the erosion of human rights.

  10. Our Holy Emperors « Ten Percent says...

    […] have overcome the mundane needs of us little people to ask they be part of ’society’- The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, appears to have declared war on the government’s own secret terror court, overruling decisions […]

  11. Connie L. Nash says...

    UK-US-IRAQI Detainee Updates (includes Calendar (UK) for easy sending; an item on Khadr (Canada); Call for Special Prosecutor (US) with link for signing; A Findlaw, Harvard & Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) US Paper

    http://oneheartforpeace.blogspot.com/2009/03/detainee-updates-uk-us-iraq.html

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s the Socialist Worker’s take on the story, with input from Gareth and me:
    http://socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=17290

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    If anyone thought this was just happening in the UK, here’s a press release from Sophie Harkat, wife of Canadian “Security Certificate Detainee” Mohamed Harkat, who has endured six years of imprisonment without charge or trial, house arrest under intolerable conditions, all underpinned by secret evidence and the use of Special Advocates. For more, see:
    http://www.justiceforharkat.com

    Security Certificate Detainee Mohamed Harkat, his wife Sophie Harkat and public counsel Matthew Webber react to new conditions of release

    Mr. Harkat has asked Justice Noël for a change in the strict conditions of release, particularly for the right to stay home alone and have longer outings. He now must be supervised both inside and outside the house at all times, with most of the supervision provided by his wife, Sophie.

    Sophie Harkat has given up her liberty and freedom to stay at home with her husband. “I am devastated and outraged,” she said. “We’ve been prisoners in our home for almost 3 years and under constant surveillance by the Canadian Border Services Agency watching our every move. I am a full time jailer to my husband and I feel my husband is paying with his life, he’s never been charged or seen the secret evidence presented by CSIS.” Harkat’s effort to change the conditions of release is but one aspect of his case. The struggle to prevent his deportation to torture and the battle to clear his name also continues.

    Six years and three months ago, on December 10th, 2002, Mohamed Harkat was arrested under a Security Certificate without ever being charged or seeing the evidence against him. CSIS claims Mohamed is a security threat and cannot show any evidence in order to protect national security. Mohamed spent 43 months in detention without charge (one year in solitary), including at the Guantánamo North prison in the Kingston area. He was later released on condition on June 21st of 2006 under the toughest conditions in Canadian history. He is forced to wear a GPS ankle bracelet/monitor at all times, be supervised 24 hours a day inside and outside the home, have 2 surveillance cameras inside the residence, have his mail intercepted and phone taped, the computer is under lock, all visitors to the residence and locations he visits must be pre-approved by CBSA, he is only allowed three outings per week for a maximum of 4 hours in the company of a supervising surety and followed by CBSA officers wearing bullet proof vests, carrying weapons in police cruisers, a few from a long list of most stringent conditions ever imposed. They have been under house arrest for almost three years and the inhumane conditions affects everyone around them, especially family members.

    Media contacts:
    Norm Boxall (public counsel for Mohamed Harkat): 613-236-0535
    Matt Webber (public counsel for Mohamed Harkat): 613-296-2544
    Christian Legeais from The Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee: 613-276-9102

  14. Britain’s Guantánamo: Fact or Fiction? by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] 2009), Ex-Guantánamo prisoner refused entry into UK, held in deportation centre (February 2009), Home Secretary ignores Court decision, kidnaps bailed men and imprisons them in Belmarsh (February 2009), Britain’s insane secret terror evidence (March […]

  15. Christine Bullivant says...

    even after all this time since my son’s release from his control order we are still unable to live normal lives… Kaleem is still unable to have a bank account, a basic need in our society. the years of high level stress have had the severe impact on my health to the degree that I have been unable to work or indeed maintain normal patterns of living. this now means that my job is in jeopardy and I am at risk of losing my home. My son, as a young man marked with the terrorism label is someone living in a society with no hope in the present of a future. Who will offer him a career, security financially and the certainty of having the same rights as his contemporaries? 3 times he gave this government a bloody nose and for standing up for himself and winning both the breach of control order case & challenging the control orders placed upon him his future is restricted by stealth, ie the blocking of opportunities and basic needs that would enable him to build a future in our society. As a qualified teacher of english as a foreign language what do you think think his chances are of securing employment within the UK? Why would he want to live & work here? He is still subjected to abuse from members of the public who recognise him from the publicity when he absconded but are unaware that he has been completely exonerated. though he may have had is day in court and won the persecution is still ongoing…for all of us!

  16. Calling Time On The Use Of Secret Evidence In The UK by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] she took the law into her own hands. As I explained at the time, in an article entitled, “Home Secretary ignores Court decision, kidnaps bailed men and imprisons them in Belmarsh,” [W]hen the two men who attended the hearing — U and VV — were driven away from the court, […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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