Law Report: No political asylum for Algerian terrorist

T v Secretary of State for the Home Department; House of Lords (Lord Keith of Kinkel, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, Lord Mustill, Lord Slynn of Hadley and Lord Lloyd of Berwick) 22 May 1996

For a crime such as the terrorist bombing of an airport to be categorised as a "political offence", so as to enable one of its perpetrators to avoid disqualification for political asylum, it must be shown not only that it was committed for a political purpose but also that there was a direct link between the crime and that purpose.

The House of Lords dismissed an appeal by an Algerian man, referred to simply as T, and affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeal (Law Report, 4 November 1994; [1995] 1 WLR 545) that the Home Secretary had been entitled to refuse T's application for asylum.

T admitted he was an illegal entrant but claimed asylum, under article 33(1) of the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees 1951, on the ground, which was not disputed, that his life or freedom would be "threatened on account of his . . . political opinion". He belonged to a banned political organisation in Algeria called the Islamic Salvation Front or FIS (Front Islamique du Salut) and had been involved in the bombing of an airport in which 10 people died and an attack on an army base in which one person died.

The 1951 Convention provided by article 1F that its protection "shall not apply to any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that . . . (b) he has committed a serious non-political crime".

Nicholas Blake QC and Richard Scannell (Jane Coker & Ptrs) for T; David Pannick QC and Neil Garnham (Treasury Solicitor) for the respondents.

Lord Lloyd said he agreed with the Court of Appeal that it was inappropriate to characterise indiscriminate bombings which led to the deaths of innocent people as political crimes. Giving the judgment of the court, Lord Justice Glidewell had said:

In our judgment the airport bomb-

ing in particular was an atrocious act,

grossly out of proportion to any genuine political objective. There was simply no sufficiently close or direct causal link between it and the appellant's alleged political purpose. It offended common sense to suppose that FIS's cause of supplanting the Government could be directly advanced by such an offence.

There was no English authority on the meaning of "non-political crime" in the Convention, but it was common ground that the words must bear the same meaning as they did in extradition law.

His Lordship referred in particular to Lord Diplock's discussion of the word "political" in R v Governor of Pentonville Prison, ex parte Cheng [1973] AC 931 at 945. A crime would only be regarded as political if the relationship between the act and the effect on the Government was sufficiently close.

Another important source, though not having the force of law, was the United Nations Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status. Paragraph 151 stated:

In determining whether an offence

is "non-political" or is, on the contrary, a "political" crime, regard should be given in the first place to its nature and purpose, i.e. whether it has been committed out of genuine political motives and not merely for personal reasons or gain. There should also be a close and direct causal link between the crime committed and its alleged political purpose and object.

Taking the various sources of law into account one could arrive at the following definition. A crime was a political crime for the purposes of article 1F(b) of the Convention if, and only if:

1) it was committed for a political purpose, i.e. with the object of overthrowing or subverting or changing the government of a state or inducing it to change its policy; and

2) there was a sufficiently close and direct link between the crime and the alleged political purpose.

While it was clear that FIS was a political organisation and that T's motive in becoming involved in the airport bombing was to overthrow the Government, the crime as carried out was almost bound to involve the indiscriminate killing of members of the public. The link between the crime and the political object was too remote.

Paul Magrath, Barrister

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