Monday, July 09, 2007

Secret, unfair, untrustworthy

The review of Ahmed Zaoui's Security Risk Certificate gets underway in Auckland today. Unfortunately, if anyone was hoping for a definitive answer on whether Zaoui is a security risk or not, they'll be disapointed, because the hearings are being held in secret. This means that the public will not be able to weigh the evidence against Zaoui and decide whether the review reaches the right conclusion. Neither will we be able to see whether it is being conducted fairly and impartially, or whether the SIS's case was ever anything more than a bad joke. But that's not the worst of it: part of the review is secret even from Zaoui himself: he is not permitted to know the classified evidence or even some of the allegations against him, and therefore can not possibly defend himself against them. This violates Zaoui's right to natural justice, and turns the whole process into a Kafkaesque parody of the judicial process. In fact, Kafka's description in The Trial is a near-perfect description of the process being used in Zaoui's case:

But K. should not forget that the trial would not be public, if the court deems it necessary it can be made public but there is no law that says it has to be. As a result, the accused and his defence don't have access even to the court records, and especially not to the indictment, and that means we generally don't know - or at least not precisely - what the first documents need to be about, which means that if they do contain anything of relevance to the case it's only by a lucky coincidence. If anything about the individual charges and the reasons for them comes out clearly or can be guessed at while the accused is being questioned, then it's possible to work out and submit documents that really direct the issue and present proof, but not before. Conditions like this, of course, place the defence in a very unfavourable and difficult position. But that is what they intend. In fact, defence is not really allowed under the law, it's only tolerated, and there is even some dispute about whether the relevant parts of the law imply even that.

I was under the impression that a review process should deliver justice, not nightmare satire...

If a foreign country purported to "try" people like this, we would rightly object that such procedures violated human rights and could not possibly produce a fair outcome. The same applies in New Zealand. If the government wants us to regard this review as anything more than a kangaroo court, then it must open proceedings to public scrutiny, and ensure that Zaoui can properly defend himself against all of the "evidence" against him.