The SIS dictated secret trial in Wellington

There was an unusual top secret trial in Wellington last week, where neither a Melbourne woman contesting the cancellation  of her New Zealand passport, nor her lawyer, nor any media, were allowed to attend the hearing.

Andrew Geddis at The Spinoff:  The bizarre case of the NZ court case hidden from public and media scrutiny

Something quite strange is happening at the High Court in Wellington this week. Journalists doing their regular rounds of that place’s pathos, bathos, high drama and human frailty came across a closed courtroom with nothing to say what was going on inside its doors, heightened security outside of them and strange “men in dark suits” lurking in the nearby halls.

Upon asking what was up – journalists are pesky like that – they were told they weren’t allowed to know before quickly being ushered away by court security officers. Which, of course, simply makes everyone that much more curious about what on earth could be going on.

The suspicions of at least some of us were confirmed when Justice Venning, the Chief High Court Judge, released a statement confirming the subject of the case.

The statement:

Geddis:

How do we know this? Because her case already has been before the High Court last year, when she sought to challenge the government’s claim that not only did her appeal have to be held in secret, but that neither she nor her lawyer were allowed to know the reasons why her passport had been cancelled.

Those reasons, said the government, constituted “classified security information”. And under the Passports Act 2002, it’s not just the public and press who can’t be in the courtroom to hear the content of such information. Neither can the person whose passport is cancelled, nor that person’s lawyer.

That does sound bizarrre.

So, here’s what is happening in the High Court in Wellington. A woman is asking to get her passport back after the government took it off her. She is doing so without knowing the evidence the government has for deciding she represents a security risk, without being able to be in the court to watch the case being argued, and without being able to have her own lawyer present to argue for her (although some unnamed “advocates” have been appointed to “assist with issues that have to be dealt with” in her absence).

And none of us can go in and watch the case. Nor can the media go in to watch it on our behalf.

Closed justice, in a country where open justice is supposed to be an important principle.

Matt Nippert at NZH:  Secret Wellington High Court national security hearing lambasted as ‘Kafkaesque’

A Wellington basement courtroom last week became the scene for what a Green MP called “Kafkaesque” and civil liberties advocates described as “security theatre performance”.

MP Golriz Gharaman, the Green Party spokesperson for security and intelligence issues, said the court’s acceptance of classified information in this one-sided fashion was unjust.

“The courts are asked to base their decision on so-called facts, presented by just one side. It’s Kafkaesque – you can’t answer the case against you, because you can’t know the case against you,” she said.

The woman’s passport was cancelled in May 2016, but the protocols to allow secret trials was signed after that, in January 2017.

The Herald can reveal the case concerns a Melbourne-based New Zealander who in May 2016 had her passport cancelled on national security grounds by then-Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne.

A copy of the protocol governing passport cases where courts are asked to consider evidence classified as secret… signed last January by then-attorney-general Chris Finlayson and chief justice Sian Elias, prescribes: The extensive use of “tamper-proof envelopes”; requirements for court staff to stand watch over locked cabinets during lunch breaks, and; a ban on the public, media and even those accused by such evidence – or their lawyers – from being present during its presentation.

The eight-page protocol also allows for the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) to insist that hearings be relocated from a courtroom to any location or their choosing, or to require judges writing up their decision to only use a computer supplied by the intelligence.

Cate Brett, a spokesperson for the Courts, directed questions about the protocol to the relevant minister.

The processes and procedures adopted this week in Wellington were “required by law” and it was “not appropriate to a judge to comment on how a case is conducted”, she said.

Andrew Little, the minister responsible for the courts and the SIS, issued a statement backing the handling of the case.

“There’s a balance to be struck between the vital principal of open justice and the equally important need for national security to be maintained and I believe the current protocol achieves that balance,” he said.

The protocol was put in place before Little became Minister of Justice, but he believes it strikes the right balance. As leader of the Opposition Little was on the Intelligence and Security Committee sol may have been aware of the protocol when it was signed.

Dunne used powers available to him under the Passport Act to cancel the woman’s travel documents if he believed the passport holder was intending to take part in terrorism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in a country other than New Zealand.

In earlier pre-trail rulings Justice Robert Dobson mulled the possibility of this classified information coming from agencies outside New Zealand.

The self-represented woman, whose identity is suppressed, is seeking a judicial review of Dunne’s decisions, but has faced a legal labyrinth over the protocols which requires her to challenge the Minister’s decision without being able to know why it was made.

In her absence the court has appointed special advocates – allowed to attend the secret closed hearings – to assist the court when considering the classified information.

The case is complex. The first scheduled date for a substantive hearing – in June 2017 – was abandoned and no new date has yet been set. An appeal lodged with the Court of Appeal by the women was then abandoned, and twice during the past year judgements have had to be amended and reissued.

Without a passport the woman must be stuck in Australia, unless they deport her to New Zealand. She presumably won’t be able to travel here without a passport, and wouldn’t be able to return to Australia.

10 Comments

  1. Trevors_elbow

     /  March 5, 2018

    Should have let ger travel to Syria then canned the passport…. now we have an expensive court case to fund that serves little purpose

  2. NOEL

     /  March 5, 2018

    Information from agencies outside of NZ. Person unable to flee Australia because of passport cancellation. Gee not hard to join the dots Trev to see it’s probably isnt money wasted.

  3. Secrecy like this has any-one questioning as to why and isn’t there something about facing accusers in court?
    Or who is she related to?
    Smells

  4. Gezza

     /  March 5, 2018

    Likely that disclosing the classified information the SIS and relevant Miniters relied on could result in harm to an identifiable informant or reveal other vital information sources or informants in an intelligence network.

    • NOEL

       /  March 5, 2018

      SIS may have provided the information but this is simply a case of DIA revoking a passport of a NZ citizen. Duty of care requires that this is carried out if a NZ passport holder is planning to join a group with the intent of harming others.
      I’m guessing the guys in the suits were hired security because Justice wouldn’t carry the cost.
      Not many dots to join here folks.

  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  March 5, 2018

    What is the bet that these provisions are imposed at the behest of a foreign government?

    I seriously doubt such demands originated in NZ.

    • Gezza

       /  March 5, 2018

      What if an informant is one of her family or friends?

      • Gezza

         /  March 5, 2018

        And the other thing that’s interesting is that the Ozzers usually can’t wait to chuck NZ citizen undesirables on a plane back here. So somebody’s moved quickly to make sure they can’t.

  6. artcroft

     /  March 5, 2018

    The Greens don’t need to worry themselves about this. Winston has ok’ed it and that’s all they need to know.

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