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Lawyers fail to get coercive powers for Haneef inquiry PDF Print E-mail

© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service

ImageSydney, April 30 (IANS) The much awaited judicial inquiry into the failed terrorism case against Indian doctor Muhammad Haneef heard fresh calls Wednesday for coercive powers to investigate the circumstances surrounding his arrest and detention last year.

But former New South Wales Supreme Court judge John Clarke, who is heading the inquiry, rejected a request from Haneef's barrister Stephen Keim to ask the Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland for royal commission powers, which include the right to compel witnesses to give evidence or provide documents.

The inquiry will investigate the series of events from the arrest of Haneef at Brisbane airport July 2, 2007, until his release from detention and return home to Bangalore July 29 last year.

Since the announcement of the inquiry in March this year, Haneef's lawyers have been demanding additional powers that would compel potential witnesses to give evidence.

"We would rather have the ability to cross examine witnesses and we've been making that clear since the inquiry was first announced. We think that having the coercive powers that we've asked for is the best way to get to the bottom of what happened to Dr. Haneef," said Rod Hodgson, partner of Maurice Blackburn, a leading law firm, who is acting on Haneef's behalf during the judicial inquiry along with his legal team of Peter Russo and Stephen Keim.

Justice Clarke told reporters: "I want to emphasise that any report that bears my name will be a proper report." He said he would request an interview with Haneef.

Former immigration minister Kevin Andrews, who cancelled Haneef's 457 work visa soon after he was granted bail by a Brisbane magistrate, and Australian Federal Police Chief Mick Keelty have said they will cooperate with the inquiry.

Other government agencies involved, including Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, have also agreed to cooperate fully.

Keim told the inquiry: "It is apparent ... that a series of appalling decisions have been made by police, prosecution and immigration officials including possibly by persons at a high level in those organisations."

"Dr. Haneef continues to have his reputation imperilled and his personal safety threatened by public statements by the Australian Federal Police that he continues to be the subject of investigation by that organisation.

"Because Dr. Haneef's reputation continues to be sullied by innuendo that he is a person of sufficiently dubious conduct to deserve to be investigated for now over 10 months and continuing, he is very keen to clear his name, once and for all."

Assuring that if need be, the powers of the inquiry will be strengthened, McClelland told ABC Radio: "We have informed him (Justice Clarke) that if, at any stage, he believes his inquiry is prejudiced as a result of the absence of coercive powers, then we will certainly be receptive to any approach that he may make to us in that respect.

"I sincerely believe the inquiry will proceed in a full, proper and comprehensive manner and I have every confidence that outcome will be achieved by Mr Clarke. You can be assured it's a full inquiry.”

As the one-hour preliminary inquiry heard evidence in Canberra Wednesday, Hodgson told the media: “We have great faith in Mr Clarke's history and his acumen, but he has his hands tied behind his back."

Clarke is expected to produce a public and a private report. He will report his findings to the Federal government by Sep 30.

Haneef was incarcerated in Australia for three weeks last July after being charged with supporting a terrorist organisation by "recklessly" giving his mobile phone SIM card to people planning the botched London and Glasgow bomb attacks. The charges were later dropped and Haneef returned to his family in Bangalore. His work visa was reinstated last December by the new Labour Immigration Minister Chris Evans.

Judicial enquiry into Haneef's saga begins Wednesday

Sydney, April 29 (IANS) As the judicial enquiry into the handling of the bungled case against Indian doctor Muhammed Haneef begins Wednesday, his lawyers doubt whether there would be "full and frank cooperation" from some of the key players involved.

The review will be carried out by former New South Wales Supreme Court judge Justice John Clarke. He will conduct a one-hour preliminary hearing in Canberra Wednesday afternoon into the circumstances surrounding Haneef's arrest and detention last year.

Haneef was incarcerated in Australia for three weeks last July after being charged with supporting a terrorist organisation by "recklessly" giving his mobile phone SIM card to people planning the botched London and Glasgow bomb attacks. The charges were later dropped and Haneef returned to his family in Bangalore July 28 last year.

Haneef's lawyers want Clarke to be given "coercive powers" to force witnesses, including former Australian immigration minister Kevin Andrews and Australian Federal Police (AFP) Chief Mick Keelty, to give evidence.

Both Andrews and Keelty have said they will cooperate with the inquiry and, according to media reports, "are expected to present their evidence in secret".

Haneef's lawyers, however, are sceptical. "I do not have confidence that there will be full and frank cooperation from some of the key players," said Rod Hodgson, a partner with Maurice Blackburn, a leading law firm which will be acting on Haneef's behalf during the judicial inquiry along with his legal team of Peter Russo and Stephen Keim.

"We don't have answers to questions we want answered, and are concerned that Mr. Clarke is going to have some trouble getting to the bottom of those matters without being given coercive powers."

Meanwhile, Haneef's lawyers have also dismissed claims made in some sections of the media by a former John Howard government source that the AFP did not anticipate Andrews' decision to cancel Haneef's visa.

".....we know that the AFP was in contact with the migration department before the visa was cancelled. They cooked up a scheme between the two of them to cancel the visa in the event that they got an adverse finding in the magistrate's court," Hodgson told the Australian Associated Press.

The source had told Fairfax newspapers, publishers among others of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, that the cancellation, which came just hours after Haneef was granted bail by a Brisbane magistrate, had "spoiled the police investigation".

"If Dr. Haneef had been freed on bail the police would have kept him under surveillance and gathered any evidence that might be out there," the source was quoted as saying.

According to evidence emerging at the Old Bailey court in London April 11, Haneef was innocent all along, but the AFP and the Commonwealth Director of Prosecutions ignored the evidence to continue his incarceration.

For a failed case that has earned Australia and the former John Howard government bad press not only at home and in India, but across the world.

Taxpayers have also borne a heavy price.

Andrews has spent more than 200,000 Australian dollars ($186,676) on monitoring the media, much of it on the bungled investigation of Haneef, a Senate Estimates Committee was told recently.

The bungled investigation is still costing the tax payer a whopping eight million Australian dollar ($7.4 million). There are nine Australian federal police staff working full time on Haneef's case.

After the Labour government came to power, the new Immigration Minister Chris Evans had reinstated Haneef's work visa in December last year. Haneef has earlier said that he would be seeking compensation and is hoping the inquiry will give him a "clean slate" to get on with his life.

Clarke is due to submit his report by Sep 30.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any www.india-voice.com content is expressly prohibited without  the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated.

 
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