After reading so much about the Special Immigration Appeals Commission procedure, Control Orders, Detentions, Bail Revocations, Secret Evidence and Closed Sessions, a good friend of mine advised me that it was possible to attend in person. Having had a holiday from work, I decided to experience these myself from the public gallery so was present for the hearing on the 27th February for five detainees, U, Z, BB, Y and VV. Unfortunately due to restrictions of the court and allegedly their protection I cannot reveal their names.
For the uninitiated, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, or SIAC, was established in order to handle cases where the secretary of state herself wishes to see individuals deported on the basis of national security or public interest. These courts are heard in a small room off Chancery Lane, and anyone may attend them whenever the court is in session.
So what happens? Allow me to share my own experiences. I entered the building and had gone through the normal security procedures, no more intrusive than you would expect at an airport. This involved emptying ones pockets and walking through a scanner. After being waived on, a security guard gruffly told me “second floor”, however after responding in perfect English that I was looking for the SIAC court he realised I was not here for my own hearing and instead I made my way to the basement.
I was there fairly early, so the court was closed but after a period of ten minutes myself and four others were given entry to the court, and I made my way towards the back of the gallery following the crowd. The court is a modern one, though fairly cramped, and to the courts credit I must say the chairs were comfortable.
About fifteen minutes after this, a number of solicitors and barristers made their way into the courtroom. The court procedure already seemed fairly informal, with no silks or wigs in sight. It was shortly later that I realised I had made my first faux pas. A gentlemen asked me whether I was with the secretary of states department, and noting the disgust on my face asked me to move to the other side of the gallery. I did so, but at the expense of a good seat, the other side being almost full with supporters. I would estimate approximately 15 supporters had made the journey, some as far as Brighton. I was disappointed with the lack of showing from the muslim community however ( as far as I could ascertain I was the only muslim male there ) however there were plenty of muslim women. I was extremely pleased to see how much support these men have outside the community. It showed to me that this issue is not one that affects just muslims, but instead one that affects a lot of people who are concerned at the direction that this country’s’ laws and freedoms are heading.
Shortly afterwards, the “trial” began. At the “All rise”, I stayed seated, not wishing to show the courts the authority they so dearly would love to have. I do believe though my silent protest was obscured by the large public gallery, but I suppose it’s the thought that counts. There was firstly the matter of the detainees. One was present in the courtroom, behind a Plexiglas screen with slits in it so that he could hear the proceedings, and was flanked to the right of him with agents from the UK Border Agency, dressed in full regalia. It was not quite “Silence of the Lambs”, but it was close enough. I can only imagine how the couple of journalists present would perceive this man, and how much they would look behind the glass and see the man behind it. For the majority of the trial, he stayed studious and quiet, concentrating intently on the proceedings.
The debate was around the four other detainees, who had been taken in the night without their solicitors being contacted until much later. In a couple of the cases, they had been taken to prison after being told the van would be taking them home following a trial yesterday. They were now in different prisons, three in Belmarsh with one in Wood Hill. The Judge explained the court would have difficulty hearing their cases in person, so would videolink be acceptable. It was eventually agreed to.
So, after this was completed a time was given of 12-2 for the video linkups. This made me concerned that I would miss Friday prayers, however thankfully it transpired the proceedings were wrapped up early. Before that time (11am), a “closed session” took place. This is where everyone except for the judge and elements from the Home Office are asked to leave the courtroom. With the door firmly locked, the black box of “secret evidence” was discussed. The Detainee, Solicitor and Barrister are not permitted to hear this evidence. After ½ an hour of this, we were called back into the courtroom.
By this time, the video linkup had arrived and due to defence solicitors wishing to consult with their clients, I was asked to leave the courtroom having not been “ vetted for visiting.” Though disappointed not to hear the men speak, I do understand their reasons for doing so.
I went to make a phone call, returning to a somewhat more elated crowd. Four of the men (all except for “U”) had been ordered by the judge to be returned to their homes. “U” was then given the verdict of having his bail revoked and he was to be returned to prison. After some more complex legal arguments regarding Judicial Reviews and more alleged breaches of the Human Rights Act by the Home Secretary than there are Detainees, Mr Mitting the trial judge issued his judgement explaining his decision. There were no real details to be gleamed, other than “on the basis of the closed evidence, I revoke the bail of U”. This was in essence the commentary, cloaked in legalese.
As the judgement was being read, on the video linkup a sad scene was evolving. Of the three men on the screen, two were given the all-clear to go home whilst Detainee U would be staying. The men all seemed resigned to their respective fates, and as a testimony to the character and virtues of Detainee U he was able to give smiles and laughs to the two who would be going ( VV and Y ), and they shared hugs and salutations before being led out to the left, leaving the solitary figure of U alone. U’s face displayed a look of acceptance, realising that yet again he had been detained without hearing any of the closed evidence against him. I would think that years of these sorts of events have made him harden, and he had already prepared himself mentally to abandon hope ; it has a habit of turning to despair when you hope too much. I would like to see the Home Secretary in court one day herself, to see the damage she is doing to real people with feelings, just like you and me, rather than meeting with her spin doctors to decide upon vote-winning strategies for an increasingly right-wing British public.
It was on this note that I left the courtroom and made my way out into the world of an oblivious population, saddened that the black arts of the SIAC would again go unreported and the latent british public (including the majority of muslims in this country it seems) would again ignore one of the most dangerous assaults on rights and freedoms in the modern age.
* I would urge everyone to send a note of support to Detainee U whom I believe is currently in Belmarsh Prison. You can also send letters of support for those on control orders via the mens solicitors.