Four days ago, at a secretive hearing in the basement of a large building in London, not far from St Paul’s Cathedral, judges were considering the activities of a person known only by the cipher ‘CY’.
We don’t know in full what the hearing was about. We don’t know a word of what was said there – or if the mysterious CY was present.
We, the public, are unlikely even to learn the outcome.
Welcome to the shadowy world of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), which says it follows this country’s cherished principles of open justice – but in fact operates in a cloak of secrecy [File photo]
The only sliver of information relating to CY that we have been allowed to know – thanks to the Government’s courts and tribunals website – is that his or her case began at 10am and was intended to last all day.
Welcome to the shadowy world of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), which says it follows this country’s cherished principles of open justice – but in fact operates in a cloak of secrecy.
Yet it is here that the lawyers of jihadi bride Shamima Begum hope to fight – remunerated by legal aid funded by taxpayers – Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s decision in February to strip her of her British citizenship.
Since then, Begum has been accused of being an IS operative who carried a Kalashnikov rifle, served in the terror outfit’s ‘morality police’ and even stitched suicide bombers into explosive vests.
When Begum’s appeal arrives at the SIAC – and it could be many months from now – the chances are that we will never be told. She will most likely be granted anonymity like so many others who have appeared there
She, of course, says she was merely a blameless housewife, married to a Dutch jihadi, who now wants to come ‘home’ to rebuild her life with her loving family in east London.
Whatever the truth, Begum’s case at the SIAC is unlikely to get a public airing, despite the thousands of pounds it will cost us to finance her fight to regain her citizenship.
Journalists and members of the public are routinely refused access to SIAC hearings, which are hidden in the bowels of Field House – one of the many immigration appeal tribunal centres around the country.
Remember, the individuals whose cases are being heard can be fighting to avoid deportation, trying to return here after being dispatched to foreign soil, asking for bail from prison and even challenging the Government – as is expected in Begum’s case – over the removal of their British citizenship.
They can have a chequered past, with possible links to terrorism or other anti-state activities. They want to stay in Britain and the Government wants them out because it believes they pose a threat to national security.
The stakes could not be higher. Yet little is known about who appeals at the mysterious SIAC. The normal checks and balances of public justice often do not exist.
On the SIAC website, which listed CY’s case last week, we read that the tribunal ‘sometimes uses reference numbers or initials to protect the anonymity of those involved in the appeal’.
Whatever the truth, Begum’s case at the SIAC is unlikely to get a public airing, despite the thousands of pounds it will cost us to finance her fight to regain her citizenship
And that sticks in the craw. We understand that evidence at open SIAC hearings might reveal secrets that help our enemies.
But shouldn’t the public at least be told the names of those who want to live here – when the Government wants rid of them?
Three years ago, a foreign-born terror suspect who had illegally entered Britain from Algeria won the right to stay here, despite keeping his real name a secret for 23 years.
At one stage, he appeared before the SIAC – which, amazingly, granted his request for anonymity – as ‘B’, although his false names ‘Nolidoni’ and ‘Pierre Dumond’ were known.
The anonymity order made by SIAC judges meant that B’s photograph could not be circulated by anti-terror police to find out his true identity.
It’s no wonder that Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative Party leader, said at the time: ‘How ridiculous. It is completely mad. We have a legal system that has lost all common sense.’
There are many who will agree with him. Since then, little appears to have changed.
When Begum’s appeal arrives at the SIAC – and it could be many months from now – the chances are that we will never be told.
She will most likely be granted anonymity like so many others who have appeared there. Can that really be right in a free country?