Carl Jackson reviews the history of the Abu Qatada case and recommends a robust solution.
In Bali, a bomb outside a nightclub kills 182 innocent people. Russian special forces storm a Moscow theater where Chechen terrorists are holding 800 hostages. George W. Bush prepares to invade Iraq.
A Daily Politics mug to all who guessed the year was 2002. October 2002 to be precise; the same month Abu Qatada was first arrested by British police. Fast forward to 2013, and the Bali bombers are no longer with us – they were executed five years ago. The Chechens left Moscow in body bags. The US army toppled Saddam and is now out of Iraq altogether.
But Abu Qatada is still here.
A decade of legal wrangling has got us nowhere. Qatada has spent time in prison, on bail and under control orders. His case has gone before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, the Court of Appeal, the Law Lords and the European Court of Human Rights. And what do we have to show for it? A smirking extremist still in our midst, and the bill for his legal aid. Enough is enough. The Government should take tough action to end this ridiculous saga for good.
On Wednesday, Labour blamed the Home Secretary for Qatada’s continued presence in Britain. In truth, up to this point it’s been hard to see what more Theresa May could do. There is already a deportation order against the Jordanian. As soon as he decided to fight that order in the courts, his fate rested with judges, not ministers. Five Labour Home Secretaries failed to deport Qatada for exactly that reason.
Last month, the Court of Appeal decided Qatada could not be deported to face retrial on terrorism charges. Echoing last year’s European Court decision, it ruled Qatada would not get a fair trial in Jordan because evidence against him could have been obtained under torture. The Government sought permission to appeal. The Court of Appeal refused.
So what is the Government’s next move?
First, it has reached a “mutual assistance” treaty with Jordan which guarantees Qatada a fair trial if deported. Second, it will request permission directly from the Supreme Court to have its appeal heard there.
That is all well and good, but we’ve been here before. Jordan has already bent over backwards to guarantee Qatada a fair trial. The issue has been discussed by Home Office officials with their counterparts in Amman and in direct talks between David Cameron and King Abdullah II. The Jordanians even changed their Constitution so evidence obtained under torture cannot be used in court.
As for the UK Supreme Court, why is the Government begging it for a hearing when just four years ago judges in the House of Lords – then the highest court in the land – ruled that Qatada could be deported? Our most senior judges have spoken, so why do we need a second opinion?
Even if the mutual assistance treaty is ratified and the Supreme Court hears the Government’s appeal and it agrees Qatada can be deported, that will still not be the end of the road. A new deportation order would have to be issued, at which point Qatada could start the whole appeal process all over again. Champagne all round for the lawyers.
The time for negotiations, statements and appeals is over. Abu Qatada should be deported without delay.
Talk of withdrawing from the ECHR to do this is a distraction. Despite ruling that deportation would breach his human rights, the Strasbourg Court cannot actually stop Britain kicking out Qatada. It cannot even issue fines for non-compliance with its judgments. The Government rightly continues to refuse to give prisoners the vote, for example. If this defiance of Strasbourg has brought terrible consequences, I am yet to notice.
Some will say that simply putting Abu Qatada on a plane would offend the rule of law. In this case, I think the rule of law has been more than adequately observed. No British government should deny anyone a fair trial, competent legal representation and the chance to appeal against a court’s decision. However, over the last ten years Qatada has enjoyed every single one of these rights at our expense and still our most senior judges agreed he could be deported. Four years on from the Law Lords’ decision, it is time Qatada found himself on a one way flight to Amman.