The recent intervention of the Home Secretary in the dealings of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) shows a worrying disregard for the rule of law.
The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, had been battling with judges at the SIAC (the court which hears appeals against national security deportation) at the end of February 2009, when she or her officials decided unilaterally to re-detain men who had been granted bail by the court. A number of Algerian and Jordanian men who had been granted bail on very stringent terms, including electronic tagging, restrictions on visitors, reporting several times daily and, in some cases, 22-hour home curfews, were illegally detained on their way back from the court following an unsuccessful attempt by the Home Office to persuade SIAC to revoke the men’s bail.
The men had been bailed pending appeals involving Abu Qatada and two Algerian men, known only as U and RB, to the House of Lords. The Home Office decision to revoke the bail of U and RB, and of three others known as Y, Z and VV, followed the House’s ruling earlier in February that the men could lawfully be deported (Abu Qatada had already been re-detained following a court hearing, after allegations of breach of his conditions). The Home Office did not tell the men’s lawyers that they were applying to SIAC to revoke bail until the day before the hearing, and even then, the information was given to them in strict confidence. At the hearing, on 26 February, the Home Office representative argued that they had the right to revoke the men’s bail, without reference to the court. The judges adjourned the hearing for a week and ruled that no action was to be taken meanwhile. In direct breach of the order, the two men who had attended the hearing, U and VV, were driven straight to Belmarsh maximum security prison, and the other three men were seized from their homes and taken there.
In an emergency hearing the following day, the judges ordered the release of four of the five men, on the same terms as before, which the men had respected. The man known as U, who had been on a 24-hour home curfew, remained in detention. The release of four of the men prompted an attack by the Home Secretary. ‘I am extremely disappointed that the courts have allowed these individuals to be released,’ said Ms Smith. ‘My top priority is to protect the public,’ she added, apparently unaware that this is also the priority of SIAC, which is very mindful of public protection in deciding on issues of bail. SIAC, however, unlike the Home Secretary, also considered the fact that it is unacceptable, and incompatible with the fundamental right to liberty, to detain indefinitely people who have never been charged with any offence and who may never be deported.
Natalia Garcia, solicitor for VV, commented: ‘The unlawful action by the Home Secretary in detaining VV straight from the court in which the judge had only just ruled that he should not be detained showed contempt for the court and a shocking disregard for the rule of law.’
See also: Challenging the Home Office