Appeal court judges hold up deportation of three Algerian terror suspects
· Immigration commission to reconsider cases
Clare Dyer, legal editor, The Guardian, July 31, 2007
The deportation of three suspected Algerian terrorists was yesterday halted by appeal court judges who ruled that the UK government could not be certain that they would be safe from torture after they were sent back. The ruling will put any deportations to Algeria on hold while the three men's cases go back to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) for reconsideration.
In a rare step, the three appeal court judges delivered two judgments - an open one for publication, and a closed one given only to the home secretary and the men's special advocates, explaining why two of the men, named only as U and BB, had won their appeals. The third man, named as MT, and one of those acquitted in the ricin terrorist trial, won his appeal because the Siac judge had wrongly concluded that he would be able to take advantage of an amnesty in Algeria for people involved in terrorist acts. Gareth Peirce, solicitor for MT and U, said it was "the ultimate Kafkaesque nightmare" for U to be told it was unsafe to go back to his country, but not to be told why.
The three appeals tested the effectiveness of the UK government's attempts to rely on diplomatic assurances from Algeria that detainees would not be subjected to torture on their return to the country. A judgment from the European court of human rights in Strasbourg in 1996 bars states adhering to the European human rights convention from deporting people to countries where they face a real risk of torture or degrading treatment.
After the London tube bombings in July 2005, the UK government began drawing up memorandums of understanding, backed by independent monitoring, with countries with poor human rights records, guaranteeing that those sent back there would not be tortured. The Home Office started moves to deport 15 Algerians deemed to be a danger to national security on the basis of secret intelligence unusable as evidence in British criminal courts.
But Algeria has refused to enter into a formal memorandum, claiming it would infringe the country's sovereignty.
The government has argued that diplomatic assurances are sufficient, that Algeria is now a democracy and that some terror suspects would be able to take advantage of the recent amnesty.
However, lawyers for the suspects say the Algerian security police are not under the control of the state, so any assurances are worthless. Men who have returned to Algeria voluntarily have been imprisoned and charged with terrorist offences, contrary to assurances given to them by British officials, and Amnesty International has reported torture and mistreatment of detainees.
The appeal court judges - the master of the rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, Lord Justice Buxton, and Lady Justice Smith - dismissed arguments that assurances from a country such as Algeria could never be relied on. Sir Anthony said: "Siac went to a good deal of trouble to establish that in Algeria there is not now a consistent practice of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights or a systematic practice of torture, nor anything like it; and that the Algerian authorities would not be contemptuous of the obligations that they had undertaken."
But the judges had been shown "closed evidence which is capable of undermining Siac's overall conclusion" that it was safe to return the men to Algeria.
The Home Office hopes that a fresh hearing will judge that the men can still be deported.
A spokesman said: "It is our belief that it is safe to deport to Algeria on the basis of assurances. We believe this approach effectively balances our duty to protect this country with our international human rights obligations.
"It remains our intention to remove these individuals, whom the home secretary considers pose a threat to national security, as soon as we are able to do so. While the court of appeal has chosen to remit these three cases to Siac, which will prevent removal for the time being, we remain hopeful that Siac will find that all three individuals can be safely returned to Algeria."
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