Sunday, October 14, 2007

Due process slow… but eventual in New Zealand

(Required for Comparative Justice Students)

By Dan McKenzie
The heightened state of concern over potential terrorism has tested the power of the judiciary and the rule of law in New Zealand. Mr. Ahmed Zaoui was an influential member of the Islamic Salvation Front (ISF) in Algeria. After the ISF had made significant ground in acquiring democratically elected control of the country, military forces opposed to the ISF began a systematic purge of ISF members. Mr. Zaoui fled the country eventually arriving in New Zealand where he was granted refugee status by the Refugee Status Appeal Authority in 2002.

Mr. Zaoui was soon arrested and declared a national security risk by the Security Intelligence Services. In compliance with this assessment the Minister of Immigration ordered the deportation of Mr. Zaoui at which point an appeal was made to the Inspector General of Intelligence for repeal of the security risk assessment. The Inspector General failed to initiate the review placing the status of Mr. Zaoui in limbo and resulting in his imprisonment for twenty three months.

In 2005 Mr.Zaoui brought the issue via appeal to the newly formed Supreme Court (established 2004) where it would blossom into one of the defining cases of the new court. In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Zaoui had to be released on bail and that the Inspector General must rule on Mr. Zaoui’s security assessment appeal. The court used inherent jurisdiction and broke with tradition by deciding the case themselves instead of returning the case to the High Court. More important, the Justices ruled that the Minister of Immigration had to take into account human rights when deciding whether to deport. In this case Mr. Zaoui faced the possibility of torture and the loss of life and liberty if deported to Algeria. Furthermore, the court noted that even if Mr. Zaoui was a security risk, he could not be deported if such actions would violate the protections under the New Zealand Bill of Rights, Convention Against Torture, or the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights.

Despite this decision the Inspector General did not revoke Mr. Zaoui’s security risk assessment until September 16, 2007. Although released on bail, for two years Mr. Zaoui was prohibited from seeking employment, endured a 10pm to 6am curfew, and was forced to reside at a monastery. And so goes the sometimes slow march of due process, five years too long, but far better than the alternative.


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