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Weaving web of secrecy is ‘playing with fire’

Weaving web of secrecy is ‘playing with fire’

Deborah Manning exhorts Parliamentary Select Committee
to tread carefully on secret information proposals in IB

By Syed Akbar Kamal

High profile lawyer Deborah Manning who successfully defended Algerian former MP Ahmed Zaoui has sounded alarm that while ‘Mr. Zaoui has received justice in New Zealand’ she is concerned that ‘many others may miss out’.

In an interview to “Darpan-The Mirror” which will air on Monday on Stratos she said ‘in hindsight while I am relieved & pleased at the outcome for Mr. Zaoui but I am also concerned that this case could be repeated again in the sense that classified or secret information is looking at being introduced wholesale into the Immigration system including for refugees.’

Referring to the Immigration Bill placed in Parliament and now in front of the Parliamentary Select Committee for consideration she hopes the Select Committee will look at the proposals very carefully particularly those concerning ‘secret information’.

Citing ‘secret information’ as being new entirely to New Zealand and Commonwealth legal system and observed that ‘justice is supposed to be about openness and fairness in being able to know of what you are accused of and by who.’

She added that secret information is against all of those principles and compared weaving web of secrecy to ‘playing with fire’ in uncharted territory. She said that in her opinion it is simply not the New Zealand way.

Responding to a query whether she saw any justification for government’s move, she lamented that the government did not have any objective basis to embark on such a path to justify the draconian proposals other than ‘vague notions of security.’ She strongly believes New Zealand to be ‘far far out of step with any other countries who face direct security concerns.’

As part of meeting its obligations to UN, New Zealand accepts 750 refugees annually drawn from various countries. Ahmad Zaoui came to New Zealand in December 2002 and was granted refugee status. But in March 2003 a security risk certificate was issued against him. Thus began his painful 4 ½ years sojourn walking under the shadows of classified & secret information.

Ahmed Zaoui

*****

Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, Justice Paul Neazor, oversaw the closed-door hearing process that lasted for four weeks. While pursuing the case the SIS made use of classified information to enable it to reach a decision that kept Mr. Zaoui under dark as he could not fully view what the accusations against him are and who made them.

Prime Minister Helen Clark had defended the closed-door hearings citing classified information being at the centre of discussion. She had observed that an open hearing would have been inappropriate.

Director of Security NZSIS Warren Tucker while withdrawing the security risk certificate against Mr. Zaoui admitted back in September this year that ‘the review process under Part IVA of the Immigration Act has not worked well from the NZSIS’ point of view. In particular, I regret the length of time it has taken.’

He further added that ‘this was the first case of its type in New Zealand. Much of the experience gained about using classified information in this kind of process has been incorporated into the Immigration Bill now before Parliament.’

Ms. Manning was particularly critical over the need for having secret information regime and contends that ‘our measures are far more stringent than other countries like UK, Canada, Australia or even the United States.’

‘They don’t use secret information in this way’.

Elaborating on the role of the government and the security agencies to use the ‘security language’ to justify what she dubs as ‘a creeping invasion to people’s privacy rights and natural justice rights.’

She expresses optimism that the New Zealand court systems will be very careful in dealing with such cases whenever presented but she strongly deplored the culture of secrecy.

When pointed out that profiling of passengers in some form is already in vogue at the country’s major international hubs she acknowledged that she is aware of ‘all sorts of concerns being raised by the migrant communities and numerous cases of people being stopped at the airport going in & out, about invasions into their privacy, about problems and hold-ups in their applications and they are not told why.’

‘There is certainly an increase in the use of secret information, secret reports and it is certainly of concern.’

When asked to comment on what sort of ramifications and consequences she foresees over the secret information gathering practice, she said that there is a danger of incurring international criticism while also inviting criticism from the judiciary.

She further stated that this whole process could take in its fold several migrant groups of communities who might feel marginalised and feel unfairly treated. She pointed that ‘it is affecting people’s ability to reunite with their families.’

‘There’s going to be all sorts of ripple effects when you start, you know, treating people unfairly.’

Dwelling on Terrorism Suppression Act that came into force in early November this year, she said that it is ‘always a concern’ for the courts when they are kept out of ‘any kind of legal process or process affecting someone’s human rights’.

‘I certainly know from overseas examples that the courts will usually try and find a way to be involved in justice issues.’

To a question where other countries amended the terror and security related laws to suit their geo-political environment, she responded ‘I certainly do not understand why our government has been so much more extreme in its responses to security matters at the present time.’

ENDS

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