Police involved in the case of Indian doctor Mohammed Haneef pushed the boundaries of Australia's anti-terror laws, a legal forum has been told.
Speaking at a public meeting in Sydney on Monday, some of the country's top legal minds said misinterpretation of the rules – and a 'better safe than sorry' mentality permeated the investigation.
The forum is part of an inquiry into why Gold Coast-based Dr Haneef was charged in connection with a terrorism plot in the UK, and how the case against him collapsed.
When Dr Haneef's second cousin Kafeel Ahmed blew up his car outside Glasgow Airport in June last year, the implications rippled out to Australia.
Last July, Dr Haneef was charged with supporting terrorism. The case collapsed two weeks later.
The inquiry heard that during the investigation, police operated with a 'better safe than sorry' attitude.
'Better safe than sorry' approach
“Throughout the Haneef case police were operating in the general shadow of Australia's anti-terror laws, guided more by a vague notion that those laws authorised a different and extraordinary approach,” said Ross Ray, of the Law Council of Australia.
The inquiry also heard that the public's fear of terrorism was manipulated.
“Fear is the most malleable of emotions, especially in politics. Yet fear can lead us in the wrong direction,” said former High Court Chief Justice Sir Gerard Brennan.
“It can lead us to destroy the freedom which marks our way of life and which terrorist would hope to destroy.”
Mohammed Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo protested his clients innocence and fought hard for his release. He feels it is important for the public to hear the truth behind the Haneef case.
“There are people who have a view about Mohammed even today which is probably contrary to what actually occurred in reality,” he said.
'Draconian' anti-terror laws
The forum heard that without public scrutiny, Dr Haneef would have spent much longer than 12 days imprisoned without charge.
But according to the law society, while the anti-terrorism laws that were used to hold Dr Haneef are draconian, they are only part of the problem.
Former immigration minister Kevin Andrews cancelled Dr Haneef's work visa. The Federal Court later ruled that he had acted inappropriately.
“The timing and effect of the minister's visa cancellation decision in the Haneef case, together with his many partial and political public comments, created an appearance of interference in the judicial process,” said Mr Ray.
The Inquiry is due to report back to the Federal Government by mid November.