Monday, March 05, 2018

Secret trials are under the control of the SIS

Last week New Zealand had the appalling spectre of a secret trial, from which the public and the media were excluded and evidence was explicitly kept secret (and effectively insulated from challenge) from one party. But it gets worse - because the security rules mean the court is effectively completely under the thumb of the SIS:

A copy of the protocol governing passport cases where courts are asked to consider evidence classified as secret has been obtained by the Weekend Herald.

The protocol, signed last January by then-attorney-general Chris Finlayson and chief justice Sian Elias, prescribes: The extensive use of "tamper-proof envelopes"; requirements for court staff to stand watch over locked cabinets during lunch breaks, and; a ban on the public, media and even those accused by such evidence - or their lawyers - from being present during its presentation.

The eight-page protocol also allows for the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) to insist that hearings be relocated from a courtroom to any location or their choosing, or to require judges writing up their decision to only use a computer supplied by the intelligence.

As the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties points out, all this security theatre lends credence to the government's secret "evidence" - even if (as turned out to be the case in the past) its a collection of media reports from the internet. Meanwhile the ability of the SIS to set the location and even dictate how the judge writes up the case gives them complete control and makes a mockery of judicial independence. If a criminal trial took place in a police station, the police had a veto on who could enter, allowing them to exclude witnesses or lawyers, and arranged to give themselves the power to spy on (or even edit) the judgement as it was written (oh, and keep all records secret so any precedent could never be used), we'd call it what it is: a kangaroo court which cannot possibly produce a fair outcome. But that is exactly what is happening here. And we should treat the outcome of this mockery of a process with the utter contempt it deserves.