In an editorial published on July 20, Australia's leading daily newpaperThe Sydney Morning Heraldcharacterises the case of Dr.Haneef as “a shambles.” It asks the government not to “cry wolf on national security.” The newspaper comments that “suspicion breeds suspicion, and increasingly, the general public smells a rat.” Here is the editorial titled “Hapless case of Mohamed Haneef”:
The case of Mohamed Haneef, alleged associate of terrorists, is a shambles. While the Government doggedly defends cancelling Haneef’s visa on character grounds, evidence is leaking from both sides, a senior judge has ridiculed the case against the doctor, Australian business is worried about an Indian trade backlash, and Scotland Yard is angry at an investigator being named in leaked evidence.
Beyond the public circus, the Haneef case raises important issues about public attitudes and how they are shaped. Haneef’s barrister, Stephen Keim, says he released a police interview with his client to counter “selective and misleading” leaks by police. Does this help Haneef get a fair hearing, or further jeopardise due process? The Government asks the public to trust that allegations against Haneef are serious, though secret. Yet the Government does not seem to trust the judiciary; if the information against Haneef is so damning, why did the Government not put it before the Brisbane magistrate and the Federal Court judge, both of whom were so unimpressed by the case against him? The issue is one of public confidence. As the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, said: “For God’s sake, explain to Australians why you have taken this course of action.”
When the draconian anti-terrorism laws were before Parliament, the public was assured by the Prime Minister, John Howard, that they would be closely supervised by the courts. Yet this week has seen two ministers doing the judicial sidestep. The Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, decided within an hour of Haneef’s successful bail application to cancel his visa on character grounds, while the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, on hearing of Haneef’s bail, said he might have to tighten the laws.
When the Federal Court judge Jeffrey Spender said he, too, would fail the character test under Mr Andrew’s interpretation of the immigration laws, the judge was voicing scepticism in the legal fraternity and the wider community about the strength of the case against Haneef. The Government must demonstrate it has the right balance between protecting national security and the rights of individuals; Haneef deserves his day in court. In an election year, the Government must be careful not to appear to cry wolf on national security. Mr Andrews did not require proof beyond reasonable doubt to cancel Haneef’s visa — reasonable suspicion was good enough. However, suspicion breeds suspicion, and increasingly, the general public smells a rat. (Reproduced with permission.)