Legal chiefs hit out on terror case

Nick McKenzie, Paul Austin and Leonie Wood
July 21, 2007

A GROWING chorus of prominent Australians in legal, political and religious circles has condemned the treatment of terror suspect Mohamed Haneef, calling on the Government to review its use of terror and immigration laws to detain him.

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls told The Age yesterday it appeared the Federal Government had ignored vital legal principles in forcing Haneef's detention via immigration law.

Former Victorian Court of Appeal judge, Stephen Charles, QC, and former governor-general Bill Hayden also hit out at the treatment of Haneef, saying it showed blatant disregard for the role of the courts.

As criticism of the handling of Haneef's case intensified, sources last night confirmed that a crucial piece of evidence presented in a Brisbane court in the case against him was wrong.

They confirmed that Haneef's mobile phone SIM card was not found in a burning vehicle at Glasgow Airport, contrary to evidence cited by a Crown prosecutor last Saturday.

Instead, Haneef's SIM card was found at a house in Liverpool, hundreds of kilometres away, when his cousin Sabeel Ahmed was arrested eight hours after the Glasgow attack. Ahmed has been charged with withholding information about a terrorist act.

A source close to the British investigation into the attempted bombings said the Australian Federal Police were considered a laughing stock by Britain's Metropolitan Police, for allowing "such a major cock-up" to happen. "This is very embarrassing for them," he said.

Haneef's wife Firdous Arshiya told The Age last night: "I think the truth is now finally coming out and my husband will be proved innocent. I know when he gave the SIM card to Sabeel and where. He gave it to him in our house in Liverpool."

Mr Hayden, who was governor-general from 1989 to 1996 and foreign minister in the Hawke government, called for an independent judicial review of the "appalling and frightening" decision to revoke Haneef's visa after he was granted bail by a Brisbane magistrate on Monday.

"With a quite imminent election, this all has a smell like a rebirthing bid of Tampa and children overboard," he said. "There are things worth fighting for, and this is worth fighting for."

Mr Hulls' attack comes as Federal Labor maintains its support of the Government's actions.

Former chief justice of the family court, Alastair Nicholson, QC, said the Federal Opposition had traded political expedience for principle by failing to challenge this "misuse of power".

The treatment of Haneef, who was photographed this week barefoot and shackled, was also criticised yesterday by Islamic groups and the Uniting Church.

Ikebal Patel, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said the intervention of Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews in the case had compounded feelings of alienation for Muslim Australians.

"If you talk about radicalisation, what does it take to radicalise somebody . . ?" he asked. "Sometimes you feel that there's more respect for animal rights now than there is to be a Muslim in Australia," he said.

As Mr Andrews dismissed calls to review the visa cancellation, he revealed his department had granted a tourist visa to a cousin of Haneef. Mr Andrews said that after security and character checks, Imran Siddiqui had been granted a visa to travel here to support his cousin.

Meanwhile, New Delhi's The Hindu reported that Australia has sent a Letters Rogatory to India, formally seeking assistance in probing the links and antecedents of Haneef.

Haneef was granted bail on a charge of recklessly providing support to a terrorist organisation. His lawyers have opted to keep him in jail while they challenge the cancellation of his visa on character grounds. Mr Andrews' decision means he would await trial in a detention centre.

The AFP has so far released to Haneef's lawyers only one of the two interviews the Indian-born doctor gave to police. Mr Keelty called for a stop to public speculation about the case.

Prime Minister John Howard said criticism of the handling of the case should be directed to the Department of Public Prosecutions or police. "Under our system of justice the executive has no role in the prosecution of people, nor it should," he said.

But Mr Hulls said: "Our criminal justice system is founded on the principle that any person charged with an offence is innocent until proven guilty and no one, including governments, should in any way impinge upon this principle."

A former Victorian Court of Appeal judge, Stephen Charles, QC, said that while all the facts had not yet been aired in court, it appeared the visa cancellation was aimed at deliberately bypassing the legal process.

Mr Nicholson called for a review of the terror laws' use to detain Haneef and the decision to cancel his passport.

Eleni Poulos, from the Uniting Church's social justice arm, said: "Australia's national interest is not served by undermining our legal system."

But Labor's shadow attorney-general, Joe Ludwig, said he was confident the legal system was able "to manage these issues in the interests of justice".

The Commonwealth DPP said it could not comment on a case before the courts.

Jordanian doctor Mohammed Jamil Asha, 26, last night appeared in court in London charged with conspiracy to cause explosions. Asha was the fourth person to be charged after two cars packed with explosives were found in central London on June 29. His case was adjourned to July 27.