Woman appeals against cancellation of passport on terror-related grounds

A woman’s New Zealand passport was cancelled based on information from the Security Intelligence Service.
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A woman’s New Zealand passport was cancelled based on information from the Security Intelligence Service.

More than five years after her passport was cancelled, a woman is continuing her fight against the grounds and process used to cancel it.

“It was not a genuine case against me – that is what I believe and what the evidential records show,” she told a Court of Appeal hearing, by video link to Wellington, on Tuesday.

But as with the many hearings about her case, she still did not know the full evidence against her and reasons for the cancellation because they were said to be classified information. Her identity was suppressed.

In a process developed for her case, the High Court appointed a lawyer with security clearance to act as a “special advocate” challenging evidence and submissions only heard in closed court.

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The Crown lawyer, Aaron Martin​, faced repeated questions from the three judges about the adequacy of the information for making the cancellation decision. He said it was “fit for purpose”.

The woman’s passport was cancelled in 2016 because the minister of internal affairs – then Peter Dunne​ – thought reasonable grounds existed to believe she was a danger to Syria by intending to facilitate a terrorist act.

The minister was told she had been detained on the border of Turkey and Syria on suspicion of attempting to enter Syria, marry a fighter from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and support Isis.

The Security Intelligence Service believed she was responsible for pro-Isis material posted online and for translating pro-Isis material so that it might be spread more widely and used to facilitate terrorism, a previous court decision said.

The woman said the decision to cancel her passport was made negligently, in bad faith and unfairly, and she wanted it overturned and damages awarded.

Justice Robert Dobson was the first New Zealand judge to use a bespoke process to deal with terrorism-related classified security information in a passport case. (File photo)
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Justice Robert Dobson was the first New Zealand judge to use a bespoke process to deal with terrorism-related classified security information in a passport case. (File photo)

She appealed against the High Court decision dismissing her claim.

The woman could attend only the first open-court part of what was expected to be a two-day Court of Appeal hearing.

Then the three judges were to shift to a secure court where the hearing was to continue in private. A written decision would be issued later.

The special advocate, Ben Keith​, said the grounds for cancelling the passport needed to focus on the intended act of facilitation by the individual, but the information against the woman did not do that.

He criticised the standard of information the minister was given.

The woman told the Court of Appeal she was an Australian citizen and had been working in the United Arab Emirates.

She never intended, or used, her passport to travel to Syria or engage in any kind of terrorist attack, she said.

She eventually arrived back in New Zealand and the SIS raided her hotel room.

She thought they were ridiculous asking questions about getting married overseas to an Isis fighter. She was shocked, she said. She then went to Australia to look after her parents.

She thought the SIS was trying to instigate false feelings against her and that pushed Australia to refuse to issue her another Australian passport, she said.

The High Court decision of October 2020 noted that her New Zealand passport was cancelled for 12 months and since December 2017 she had been able to apply for a new passport but had not.

For the Crown, Martin defended the adequacy of the information the minister received about the woman.

Justice Denis Clifford asked if a decision made without the affected person being heard required an extra degree of scrutiny.

Martin said it informed the standard the information needed to reach, but he resisted the idea of “intensity” of scrutiny. He said the minister received information “fit for purpose”.

It met and exceeded the standard for a conclusion that the woman intended to facilitate a terrorist act, he said.