So Dr Mohammed Haneef gets bail and walks free this morning in Brisbane. Meanwhile, he has no home to go and he has lost his job. At least he’s a free man.
The decision to grant Dr Haneef bail by Brisbane magistrate Jacqui Payne says something about the quality and quantity of the evidence in this case, because there is a presumption against granting bail to suspects charged with terrorist offences.
But obviously Ms Payne was persuaded by the submission put by Dr Haneef’s lawyers on Saturday that, despite their client having been in solitary confinement for almost two weeks while over 300 lawyers and police officers turned his life upside down in the hunt for a smoking gun or two, the case against their client is exceptionally weak. So weak in fact, that Dr Haneef is a case where ”exceptional circumstances” allow a court to grant bail.
There are other aspects of the Haneef case that are disturbing.
Firstly, the running commentary by the Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and the AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty, to say nothing of media headlines such as ‘Terror Doctor’, since Dr Haneef’s arrest at Brisbane airport two weeks ago?
Mr Ruddock came dangerously close to prejudging Dr Haneef’s case last week when he observed that Dr Haneef appeared to be leaving Australia in a hurry. It is not for the Attorney-General to provide comment on an ongoing investigation, particularly a sensitive one such as this one has been. Mr Ruddock’s job is to uphold the law and ensure it is administered fairly, no more and no less. It is certainly not to comment on the evidence in a particular case, which is exactly what has happened here.
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Mr Keelty is also at fault in this regard. He should not have called a media conference on Saturday morning to announce that a charge had been made against Dr Haneef. Every day of the week the AFP charges individuals with serious offences and Mr Keelty does not feel the need to call the media to announce the fact. Why do it in Dr Haneef’s case, particularly when the alleged misconduct appears to be relatively minor? Mr Keelty’s actions on Saturday will not have helped Dr Haneef get a fair trial.
And why did the Prime Minister, Mr Howard feel the need to aggressively assert in a weekend news conference that the charging of Dr Haneef means that the anti-terror laws passed by his government, and supported by the ALP, are completely appropriate? Surely, that’s for the courts to decide. And if Dr Haneef wins his case, and the courts criticize aspects of the anti-terror laws, will Mr Howard and Mr Rudd still stubbornly assert that no changes need to be made to the laws.
There is a long way to go in the legal proceedings against Dr Haneef. But one thing is clear. The treatment of Dr Haneef over the past fortnight has demonstrated unambiguously, that when it comes to investigations, Australia’s anti-terror laws fail dismally when it comes to striking a fair balance between the rights of the accused and those of the State. Over the past two weeks, Dr Haneef’s lawyers have been fighting with one hand tied firmly behind their backs, while the AFP turned their client’s life upside down in their hunt for evidence.