Detention without trial in all but name

Detention without trial in all but name

Written by: Harmit Athwal

The recent decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission to grant bail to three men detained without trial since December 2001 and the release of an Egyptian refugee have been met with incredulity by human rights organisations, MPs and lawyers.

On Monday 31 January, campaigners and community activists gathered outside the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in London at the start of bail hearings for men detained under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA).

Good news?

At the hearing, the panel of judges delivered a decision on a separate bail application made before Christmas by Mahmoud Abu Rideh and began hearing submissions from the lawyers acting for two Algerian men, A and P, who cannot be identified for legal reasons. The men – P – a double amputee, who has no family in the UK is suffering from a serious depressive illness and A – who has five children whom he has not seen in three years, and Palestinian torture victim, Mahmoud Abu Rideh, were all granted bail in ‘principle’. However, the men will all remain in custody until the SIAC rules on the exact conditions under which they can be released.

The SIAC found that the mental state of Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian refugee, had deteriorated dramatically and that the indefinite detention ‘continues to be a detriment to his mental health’. Rideh was initially detained at Belmarsh but was then moved to Broadmoor psychiatric hospital after developing serious mental health problems.

The other men A and P have indicated, through their lawyers, that they will not comply with bail conditions proposed by the government and that they may ‘prefer’ to stay in prison. These bail conditions would be similar to those applied to another Algerian, G, who was bailed in April 2004 on mental health grounds. G is currently living under very strict bail conditions which include:

  • only being able to leave his home with a police escort;
  • contact only with immediate family, doctors or lawyers;
  • the need for Home Office approval for anyone else being able to contact him;
  • electronic tagging, which is monitored five times a day;
  • banning of computers and mobile phones.

Their barrister Ben Emmerson QC told the SIAC hearing that bail conditions, involving house arrest, would be ‘swapping one form of indefinite detention for another’ and described such conditions as an ‘affront to democracy’.

Egyptian ‘terrorist’ quietly released

In another twist, the government quietly released an Egyptian refugee known only as C, from Woodhill prison on the evening of 31 January. He had been arrested in December 2001, soon after the ATCSA came in to force, and had been accused of being a member of Islamic Jihad. There were no conditions placed on his release, as he apparently no longer posed a terrorist threat. His case was due to be reviewed at the SIAC on 4 February.

‘Alternatives’ to unlawful detention without trial

Both decisions have to be seen in the context of the recent ruling by the House of Lords in December (see IRR News comment No apology as courts expose double discrimination), which had found that the continued detention of twelve suspected terrorists was unlawful and the government had been seeking alternatives to detention without trial. Alternatives which include proposals to deport the men to their home countries with assurances from the governments [of such countries] that they would not practise torture, and proposals for ‘control orders’, which would allow the government to place foreign nationals and British citizens under house arrest are being discussed.

Related links

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The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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