Lawyers fail to get coercive powers in Haneef inquiry (Lead, superseding earlier story)

April 30th, 2008 - 5:09 pm ICT by admin  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, 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.

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