The news that 11 of the 12 men arrested on suspicion of terrorism are to be deported on grounds of national security has inevitably given – and is probably intended to give – the impression in the public mind that there can be no smoke without fire.
Similar smearing tactics were deployed following many of the miscarriage of justice cases of the 1980s and 90s, when there would be whispers from "unnamed sources" as to those convicted getting off on technicalities. This tactic of guilt without substantiation has taken on a dangerous new lease of life over recent years as the authorities have resorted to the use of secret evidence to hold individuals for years in detention without ever knowing of what they are accused.
This system operates under immigration law as overseen by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). This body behaves like a court but neither the individual concerned nor his lawyers are allowed to know what the evidence (if there is any) is against them. The result has been that a number of terror suspects have been detained without trial either in prison or under form of house arrest for years.
One victim of this process has been the Algerian Mustafa Taleb. He was originally arrested back in 2003 in what was to become known as the "ricin" trial where no ricin was actually found. Taleb and seven others were finally acquitted in April 2005. A free man, he then tried to pick up the pieces of his life, having fled Algeria for fear of his life in the early 1990s and gained refugee status in Britain. Freedom, though, was not to last for long. Following the London bombings in 2005 Taleb, together with a number of other individuals, were picked up and taken to prison. They were served with deportation orders on the grounds of national security.
After a period in prison, the judges at SIAC finally granted Taleb deportation bail to live under house arrest conditions, unable to go outside a prescribed area, tagged and only able to meet people vetted by the Home Office. Throughout this period of detention neither Taleb or his lawyers have been told what he is accused of doing. He has become a victim of secret evidence.
For Taleb and other men detained over the past eight years the only route out of the nightmare is to agree to return to their country of origin. This in Taleb's case would mean Algeria, and would likely lead to torture and possible death.
There is a growing campaign to reverse the growth in the use of secret evidence. This has seen the Labour MP Diane Abbott put down an early day motion noting "that secret evidence is evidence held by the Home Office against an individual that neither the individual, nor their legal representation may see"; that "in recent cases secret evidence has been used to detain individuals in prison for up to three years without charge or trial" and that "the use of secret evidence by the state against individuals runs entirely contrary to habeas corpus".
It is high time that habeas corpus was restored to the UK. All that Taleb and the other foreign nationals facing an uncertain futures seek is that they be brought before a court in order that they can answer any charges brought against them. Is this too much to ask?
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