By Selwyn Manning – Scoop Co-Editor
Two High Court judges today expressed concerns that the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security had agreed to media interviews and had answered questions involving Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui.
The Inspector General, Laurie Greig, faces claims of apparent bias displayed in the media interviews and an application to have him stood down from reviewing a security risk certificate, issued by the SIS, against Zaoui.
The security certificate states Ahmed Zaoui is a risk to national security. However the judicial Refugee Status Appeals Authority has deemed Zaoui a bona fide refugee who ought to be given political asylum in New Zealand.
Justices Peter Salmon and Rhys Harrison’s concerns were directed at the Crown today at the Auckland High Court. The Justices asked Crown lawyer Jill Mallon to explain why Greig would have agreed to be interviewed on the case, especially while he was in the process of assessing the SIS’s risk certificate decision.
The Justices suggested Greig’s agreement to be interviewed was “unprecedented” in New Zealand and frowned upon in judicial circles here and abroad.
Ms Mallon accepted that it is “unusual” for a judicial officer to speak to media on a case that he or she is involved in. However, she said while it is “unwise” and fraught with risks, it is irrelevant in this case as no apparent bias exists.
Justice Harrison asked why Greig would not stand down considering he had been interviewed, and commented, on matters relevant to the Zaoui case. The Crown answered “because it is his duty” to conduct the review unless he is stood down due to apparent bias.
The Crown accepted that during the interview Greig spoke on refugees, and that Zaoui is a refugee, and, that Zaoui is the subject of the review which Greig was to consider judgment on.
Mr Zaoui arrived in New Zealand in late 2002 on an aircraft from South Korea. Prior to disembarking at Auckland International Airport he flushed his false passport down the toilet and presented himself to a customs official – stating he sought political asylum in New Zealand.
In the interview with the Listener, Greig said: “We certainly don’t want – I’m not talking as the I.G. – I’m talking just personally as a New Zealander. We don’t want lots of people coming in on false passports thrown down the loo on the plane and saying, ‘I’m a refugee, keep me here’… and perhaps having some association elsewhere. I understand that our passport is very desirable because it is accepted more or less without question all over the world. And if we lost that, then you and I would have much greater difficulty getting into America or Germany or wherever.”
Greig continued: “So there’s a number of competing interests which the Government really has to take into account. I think. And I think we really have to take into account as well – I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have refugees, because I think everybody should have refugees – but you’ve got to watch it.”
Zaoui’s lawyers, Rodney Harrison QC, Deborah Manning and Richard McLeod, claim Greig displayed apparent bias during that interview with Listener journalist Gordon Campbell in November 2003, and again, later with TVNZ and the New Zealand Herald.
This week’s High Court proceedings largely centre on the “lots of people coming in on false passports thrown down the loo” comments of Greig’s.
Justices Salmon and Harrison both acknowledged that Greig’s comments map the manner Zaoui chose in getting to New Zealand and the manner in which he claimed, and was eventually granted, refugee status.
The Justices suggested Greig did not want refugees coming into New Zealand via that route. In which case, they suggested, he had a view. They asked the Crown to explain the comments and eventually conceded that they would have to “wrestle with that point”.
Justice Harrison also cautioned Zaoui’s
lawyers from tampering with media objectivity and warned
Zaoui’s lawyers against caressing a media campaign in
The Justices have reserved their decision.