When justice has to be observed

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2007, 12:00am

There is nothing unusual about the legislative process in Australia: politicians make the laws and police and the courts ensure they are followed. Public confidence in the system rests in each stage being strictly adhered to - but that assurance has been jolted by the case of Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef.

Dr Haneef is a cousin of two men who allegedly planned terrorist attacks in Britain in June. A mobile phone SIM card he gave one before moving to Australia to work last year linked him to the plot.

Arrested last month under Australia's anti-terrorism laws, he was held for more than three weeks on suspicion of involvement during which Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews revoked his residency visa on character grounds. When the evidence was found to be flawed, the charge was dropped and he was freed; a court yesterday found the government had wrongly taken away his visa.

Dr Haneef is now in India with his wife, who gave birth during his ordeal, and he wants to return to his job. But the case may not be over; Prime Minister John Howard's government, doing poorly in opinion polls and facing voters later this year in the general election, is likely to appeal against the visa decision.

The case is the highest-profile test of Australia's anti-terrorism laws since they were toughened after the attacks in the US on September 11, 2001. Mishandling by police and politicians proves that the nation has much to do to strike the required balance between security and liberty.

Australia's executive branch of government has a right to exercise lawful discretion in such matters when the security of the nation is at stake. Such authority has to be used wisely, though; on the face of the evidence, it would appear to have over-stepped the mark with Dr Haneef.

Authorities the world over have been given sweeping powers under revamped anti-terrorism legislation. In light of the complexities of such investigations, such powers are necessary to protect citizens. But justice has to be at all times observed. Politicians must not be too quick to conclude that a suspect is a terrorist.