Sniff of freedom for Hicks as a BritonSydney Morning HeraldDecember 13, 2005
By Marian Wilkinson and Annabel Crabb
THE British High Court is expected to grant the Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks British citizenship tonight in a decision that will complicate the case for the Prime Minister, John Howard, and his two close allies in the war on terrorism: the US President, George Bush, and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Hicks's Adelaide lawyer, David McLeod, told the Herald yesterday that his client's international legal team was "quietly confident" the court would grant the citizenship, noting that Justice Lawrence Collins had "carefully listened to the arguments put".
Hicks's mother is a British citizen and, under the British Nationality Act, Hicks has a right to apply for British citizenship. But the British Home Office is fighting his application and wrote to Hicks's lawyers in October saying that because he was accused of "acts that are prejudicial to the United Kingdom", the British Government would propose stripping him of his citizenship immediately if it were granted.
Hicks has been imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for four years, much of it spent in solitary confinement, after he was picked up in Afghanistan and handed over to US forces in December 2001.
He was charged by US military prosecutors in 2004 with conspiracy to attack civilians, attempted murder of coalition forces and aiding the enemy in Afghanistan. He is slated to appear before a special US military commission trial but it has been adjourned while his US lawyers pursue actions in the American courts to win his release.
The Howard Government has strongly supported the US military commissions and has refused to ask for Hicks's return to Australia. However, the Blair Government has condemned the military commissions as a violation of international law.
Britain won agreement from the Bush Administration that no British citizen would be forced to face trial by military commission, and got its citizens released from Guantanamo Bay.
Mr McLeod said if, as expected, Hicks was granted British citizenship, his lawyers will immediately request the US and British governments release him to Britain. The British Government is concerned that if Hicks is granted British citizenship, if it is not immediately stripped, he will renounce his Australian citizenship.
In these circumstances, Britain would no longer be able to take away his British citizenship because this would leave Hicks stateless.
Hicks's London barrister, Michael Fordham, told the High Court during the hearings two weeks ago that it was nonsensical to suggest that the British Government could award and then withdraw citizenship for Hicks in the same instant.
Justice Collins criticised the British Government's approach several times in the course of the hearings.
Mr McLeod said that it was too early to say whether Hicks would renounce his Australian citizenship if he won British citizenship. Hicks has two children living in Adelaide as well as his parents, who are separated, as well as other relatives.
Mr McLeod has asked the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, for a meeting tomorrow morning in Adelaide to discuss the outcome of the British High Court decision.
> Hicks was detained near Kandahar in Afghanistan on December 9, 2001.
> He has spent the past four years and three days at Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay.
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