Tuesday, March 09, 2004

This is familiar...

The British have been operating their own version of Guantanamo in Belmarsh prison for the past two years. Foreign nationals accused of links to terrorist organisations are held there, kept in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day, completely isolated from the outside world. The legal mechanism for doing so is strikingly familiar - they are not criminal suspects, but immigration detainees. They are outside the jurisdiction of ordinary courts, have no right to trial by jury, or even any right to hear the charges or evidence against them. Standards of evidence are lower, and allow evidence extracted under torture.

Despite having stacked the deck in their favour, however, the British government still has one fundamental problem: their "Special Immigration Appeals Commission" isn't tame enough. Yesterday it ordered the immediate release of one of the detainees on the grounds that the evidence against him was "wholly unreliable and should not have been used to justify detention". It found that the charges against him had been consistently exaggerated and that security service witnesses had been deliberately misleading.

It's a mark of how destructive this form of detention is of the rule of law that the British government ignored the ruling, instead continuing to hold the man until they had found a tame judge to grant an injunction preventing his release (needless to say, detainess do not get to appeal to a higher court - but that's how a stacked deck works, isn't it?) Having argued all along that their stacked deck can deliver justice, they move immediately to overturn it when it does.

There are obvious parallels here with the Zaoui case - but I'd like to think that our government will at least play by the rules and obey the rulings of its own courts, rather than shifting the goal posts if they lose.