Yet another snub administered to the previous Australian government's decision to revoke Indian doctor Mohammed Haneef's work visa. Friday a full bench of the federal court sitting in Melbourne dismissed an appeal against an earlier ruling reinstating Haneef's work visa.
The country's government has changed since the controversial move to revoke the visa, but apparently attitudes have not.
AdvertisementFor a counsel representing the new Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, applied for the decision to be stayed, pending a possible appeal to the High Court. And thus though the Labour had been critical of the former Howard government's handling of the case. Clearly it doesn't want to welcome Haneef back straightaway.
A lawyer for Dr Haneef, Stephen Keim opposed the stay application, saying there was no justification for it and that his client's life should not be disrupted any further.
Minister Chris Evans has been quoted as saying that he may want to consider the court's decision for 28 days before responding.
"I find that difficult to understand why he has not turned his mind to a position in relation to Mohammed's visa because the ultimate decision rests with the minister," said lawyer Peter Russo leading Haneef's battles in Australia.† The hearing, being shown on videolink in Brisbane, is continuing.
But Russo also said that it was not clear whether his client would return to Australia to work even if he was allowed to.
He said that Haneef's main aim in appealing was to clear his name, adding that he had reservations about returning to Queensland state where he had worked at a public hospital and spent time in jail as a terror suspect.
Haneef had appealed the decision "firstly, to enable him to make that decision as to whether or not he will come back and secondly, for him to clear his name and get on with his life," Russo told reporters.
The previous Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews had caused a political storm when he stepped in to cancel Haneef's work visa after a Brisbane magistrate freed him on bail.
Haneef, who was working in a Gold Coast Hospital, Queensland, was taken into custody on July 2, two days after the failed Glasgow bombing. He was actually intercepted at the airport† this year, as he was about to leave for his native Bangalore in southern India on a one-way ticket.
He had allowed his SIM card to be used by his cousins arraigned as key players in the Glasgow bombing, that was the major charge against him.
But then, for all the inspired stories in the media, even a fortnight after his arrest, the Australian Federal Police were unable to find anything incriminating against Haneef. It was at that stage the Brisbane magistrate intervened.
Still Immigration Minister Andrews played truant. Not only he peremptorily revoked the Indian doctor's visa, he also ordered that Haneef† be held in detention pending the hearing of his charge.
Ten days later terrorism charges against the Indian doctor were dropped and he was released into residential detention in Brisbane. Still the passport was not returned. It was the next day, but again the minister refused to reinstate Haneef's work visa.
Meantime Haneef returned to India in a blaze of glory, but his lawyers pressed the visa case.
They disputed Andrew's use of the word "association" and questioned whether any relationship with an alleged criminal, even an innocent one, would be enough to cancel somebody's visa.
Justice Jeffrey Spender had ruled in August last that the minister applied the wrong test when judging Haneef's character.
"The minister cancelled the visa by adopting a wrong criterion. He fell into jurisdictional error by applying the wrong test," Justice Spender said.
He found that, had the minister relied upon information that Dr Haneef was considered a person of interest by British counter-terrorism police and had been formally charged with providing resources to a terrorist organisation, the minister would have been justified in cancelling his visa.
"These matters would have permitted the minister to conclude that the association between Dr Haneef and the Ahmed brothers went beyond a purely familial, social and 'innocent' relationship," he said.
It was against that decision the previous Howard government had appealed, but the Melbourne court has turned down the appeal now.
His court win will strengthen his chances to seek compensation for his ordeal, according to Brisbane compensation lawyer Mark O'Connor.
In a statement issued today, O'Connor said Dr Haneef had grounds to sue the Australian Government for wrongful imprisonment and defamation.
O'Connor said Dr Haneef had been unemployed since returning to India five months ago, because the cancelled work visa effectively barred him from working in most western countries.
He said an admission by Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty that he warned prosecutors there was insufficient evidence to charge the former Gold Coast Hospital registrar, who was charged anyway, could help Dr Haneef in any compensation claim.
"Mr Andrews made public remarks about Dr Haneef without disclosing exactly what information he was basing his remarks on.
"If it was found that the information did not support his claims, and the Federal Police knew they did not have a case against Dr Haneef, then he could have grounds for a defamation action," O'Connor said.
He said the Gold Coast doctor had endured a thorough character denunciation through his detention on a terror-related charge which was finally abandoned.
"There has been no apology from the Government, which from a compensation angle is quite important. The Minister not only refused to reinstate Dr Haneef's work visa, but said he still had suspicions about his character.
"Andrews then publicly said, after Dr Haneef flew home upon his release, that his swift departure from Australia only heightened rather than lessened his suspicions. This is bizarre and could be argued as defamatory," Mr O'Connor said.
"Without his visa, Dr Haneef could not return to his job at Gold Coast Hospital. More significantly, with the blemish on his character because of the Australian arrest and visa cancellation, it could prevent him getting work anywhere outside India.
"So the government's refusal to reinstate his visa had wide reaching consequences for him. It may now be time for the Government to compensate him for his ordeal and, through legal action by Dr Haneef, officially clear his name," O'Connor said in the statement.
However, lawyer Russo said no decision had been made about whether or not Haneef would seek compensation.
Haneef has spent most of the past five months at his family home in Bangalore and is currently in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca on the annual Muslim pilgrimage.
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