Our case against you is secret …

No one could be surprised that included in the guarantees recognised as indispensable by civilised peoples are the right, when on trial, to be present, and to be privy to the prosecution evidence. In Hamdan v Rumsfeld 548 US (2006), 29 June 2006 the United States Supreme Court held that these rights applied to detainees that the Government proposed to prosecute in special military commissions.

Stevens J, joined by Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer JJ, wrote, in an important footnote (p 71, n67):

“The Government offers no defense of these procedures other than to observe that the defendant may not be barred from access to evidence if such action would deprive him of a “full and fair trial.” Commission Order No. 1, ß6(D)(5)(b). But the Government suggests no circumstances in which it would be “fair” to convict the accused based on evidence he has not seen or heard. Cf. Crawford v. Washington, 541 U. S. 36, 49 (2004) (” ‘It is a rule of the common law, founded on natural justice, that no man shall be prejudiced by evidence which he had not the liberty to cross examine’ “) (quoting State v. Webb, 2 N. C. 103, 104(Super. L. & Eq. 1794) (per curiam)); Diaz v. United States, 223 U. S. 442, 455 (1912) (describing the right to be present as “scarcely less important to the accused than the right of trial itself”); Lewis v. United States, 146 U. S. 370, 372 (1892) (exclusion of defendant from part of proceedings is “contrary to the dictates of humanity” (internal quotation marks omitted)); Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Comm. v. McGrath,341 U. S. 123, 170, n. 17, 171 (1951) (Frankfurter, J., concurring) (“[t]he plea that evidence of guilt must be secret is abhorrent to free men” (internal quotation marks omitted)). More fundamentally, the legality of a tribunal under Common Article 3 cannot be established by bare assurances that, whatever the character of the court or the procedures it follows, individual adjudicators will act fairly.”

There is here an obvious relevance to the law concerning the use of special advocates. Such advocates are used, for example, in England and Wales in relation to some immigration matters: see the Special Immigration Commission Act 1997[UK], and Parts 3, 4 and 7 of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) Rules 2003 SI 2003/1034. These procedures have been described as “an unfortunate legacy from someone who rode roughshod over liberties in this country in a breathtaking manner” (per Dominic Grieve, Conservative Member for Beaconsfield, Commons Hansard, 23 February 2005).

A special advocate procedure is planned in New Zealand in relation to whether a person is a risk to the security of the nation for the purposes of certification by the SIS and consequent expulsion.

The Ellis case and trial fairness

For a draft paper on the trial of Peter Ellis for sexual offending at the Christchurch Civic Creche, see my web site, and follow the links to more about me, and articles available on this site.

A look at torts …

During this strangely extended lacuna between interesting criminal cases around the world, we have a moment to glance at yesterday’s decision of the House of Lords in Jones v Saudi Arabia [2006] UKHL 26 (14 June 2006).

This case concerns the civil jurisdiction of domestic courts to adjudicate on claims in tort for damages for torture inflicted in another country by officials of that foreign country. In contrast to the universal criminal jurisdiction provided for by the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 1984 (the “Torture Convention”), there is no corresponding universal civil jurisdiction. The claimants in Jones sought to establish that the State Immunity Act 1978[UK] should be interpreted, contrary to its ordinary and natural meaning, so as to permit refusal of immunity in respect of torture claims, because such an interpretation was required by s 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998[UK] to give effect to the Art 6 of the ECHR right of access to courts.

That claim and argument was rejected unanimously. State immunity is a procedural matter determining jurisdiction, and does not have substantive content. There is no international consensus recognising universal civil jurisdiction, and there is no such exception in the UN Immunity Convention 2004. And, there is no evidence that States have recognised an international law obligation to exercise universal jurisdiction over alleged breaches of peremptory norms of international law. Therefore, the (assumed) restriction on access to the domestic courts was directed at a legitimate objective and was not disproportionate, and the interpretation sought by the claimants could not prevail.

See also, blog entry for 17 March 2006.