No trial means justice denied - detention in Britain

by Paul Donovan, Tribune, 12th January 2007

There are people living like ghosts in our communities. These were the words used by human rights activist Bruce Kent to describe the lives of a number of individuals who have been held without trial in a variety of forms of captivity in the UK over recent years.

Mr Kent is one of a number of courageous people who have provided moral support by visiting those placed under control orders. Many of those detained have finished up in Broadmoor, driven mad as a result of the pressure they have been put under.

The problems started for many of the men following 9/11. Some were initially detained without trial under the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001.

Then after the law lords ruling in December 2004 that detention without trial was unlawful they were put on control orders. After the London bombings they were re-arrested prior to being served notice of deportation by the Home Office. A number of the men cleared in the so-called ricin trial (April 2005), where no ricin was found, were also processed in the same way. So for the past 15 months, some have remained in prison while others have been bailed under control order style conditions.

Throughout the period of detention, there has been no mention made of what offence they are supposed to have committed.

The latest effort has seen the Government trying to deport these individuals back to the torturing countries from which they fled seeking sanctuary as refugees.

Originally, the aim was to secure Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with various countries. The government asserts that a "MOM" guarantees, by way of "diplomatic assurances", that people deported by the UK would not be tortured or ill-treated in the country to which they are sent. MOMs have been obtained with Jordan, Libya and Lebanon but proved impossible to achieve with Algeria, from where the majority of those being detained originate.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International point out that "the essential argument against diplomatic assurances is that the perceived need for such guarantees is in itself an acknowledgement that a risk of torture and other ill-treatment exists in the receiving country."

However, in a landmark case at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) Justice Ouseley ruled in the case of an Algerian man known as Y that assurances given to Tony Blair by the Algerian Government that "no torture, no ill-treatment" would take place were sufficient.

The significance of the ruling was that the barrier to deporting people back to countries where they could face torture had been lowered even below that of the nefarious MOMs.

Y's solicitor, Gareth Peirce, succintly summarised the position. "A year ago Tony Blair said the rules of the game had changed and they would deport refugees to countries that they knew used torture, but they would not do it unless we have a MOM and an independent monitoring group," she said.

"Now one year later, there is no MOM and no monitoring group in place. The government are saying they are not necessary and today the court has endorsed that."

Yet Algeria is a country which the Home Office's own country report, produced by the Country Information and Policy Unit to assess asylum claims, says practices "beatings with fists, batons, belts, iron bars, plastic pipes or rifle butts; whipping; cutting with sharp objects; hitting the soles of the feet; soldering irons or cigarette butts applied to bare skin."

Amnesty International referred to the SIAC decision as an affront to justice given that the "officials of the Departement du Renseignement et de la Securite (DRS), Department of Information and Security, also known as Military Security, continue to torture uncharged detainees held in their custody."

There is growing concern in legal circles at the way in which the Government have effectively used the immigration court process via the SIAC as a way to circumvent normal due process. All most of those being detained have called for all along is to be brought before a fully accredited court to face whatever charges they are accused of. The reality has been they have become trapped in the immigration court sphere, unable to access justice.

Justice Ouseley, the judge who presided over the case of Y and others at SIAC, has an interesting history himself. For it was he who back in 2001 decided that the Chagos islanders would receive no compensation for their forcible and illegal removal from Diego Garcia in 1966 to make way for a US base. The islanders claim for compensation came a year after an initially successful High Court ruling that they were removed unlawfully.

Dismissing the claim for compensation, Justice Ouseley described the islanders case as "unmeritorious" and "hopeless."

No doubt Justice Ouseley was one of those Mrs Peirce had in mind when she recently stressed the need for an education in human rights for the judges.

"The right to trial by jury has been taken away without any debate but by sleight of hand," said Mrs Peirce, who lamented the passive way in which this police state style justice has been accepted by the majority of people in this country.

The plight of the likes of those held in a state of limbo in our prisons and under control order style conditions in the community need to be brought to the notice of a wider audience. The way in which the ongoing removal of citizen's rights at the behest of an ill defined terrorist threat should be a cause of concern to everyone. It is high time that the injustice of the hidden system administered via the immigration courts was exposed. Only when more people become aware will citizens once and for all be able to start reclaiming their rights.