The Abu Qatada deportation saga continues. Home Secretary Theresa May now insists that the deportation case of radical cleric Abu Qatada has “no right” to be referred to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that the three month deadline for an appeal had passed. She had initially stated that Qatada could be removed by the end of April.
Qatada’s lawyers, however, and the ECHR, claim that the deadline was later. May, reported the BBC, has written to the ECHR arguing that his application should be thrown out. His case, she wrote, should be heard by the UK’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission. Qatada has been fighting against his removal to his native Jordan, where he faces terrorism charges, for the last six years; he claims that should he be deported, he could face torture. The ECHR had initially blocked his deportation on the grounds that Britain had to be sure that evidence obtained by torture would not be used against him.
If Qatada appeals now, it might mean that deportation can’t go on until the judges have decided whether or not the case should go to court. May has been summoned to Parliament to answer questions about the case. The newspapers are calling the whole thing a “farce.” But actually, is the whole thing just a technical legal point that was expected anyway?
What do the opposition say? “Potentially this could mean that Mr Qatada could apply for bail, he could be back out on the streets and also he could sue the government for compensation for wrongful arrest,” said shadow home office minister Diana Johnson, quoted on the BBC.
“No, Camilla, Abu Qatada is not ‘a song from The Lion King,’” tweeted “Prince Charles.”
What do the government say? Ken Clarke, Justice Secretary, said on BBC Breakfast that he wasn’t sure why a procedural wrangle was seen as “such a big deal.”
Nab a Qatada! The Sun was up in arms. After advising its readers to “Nab a Qatada,” it congratulated May on her “determination” in “booting” Qatada out. But she should continue to fight, the paper urged, adding, “Britons will sleep more soundly knowing this hate preacher is locked up – and it will cost less too.” The Sun was prepared to wait a little longer for his deportation: “Just so long as we don’t see this vile creature back on our streets again.”
The ECHR is seriously flawed. Richard Hartley Parkinson on The Daily Mail wondered what gave the European Court of Human Rights the right to tell the UK how to run itself. Only seven, he pointed out, of the 11 judges there have even had any judicial experience, claiming that many are academics “parachuted” into the roles.
Does the deadline matter? Yes, it does, says BBC Home Affairs reporter Dominic Casciani: “[I]f Abu Qatada has secured a final review of his case in Europe, it has the potential to derail not just his deportation but many others too.”
The government must buck up. Michael Burleigh was also outraged, on The Daily Mail. The issue over the deadline has arisen over whether it should have included the Bank Holidays, or the extra day of the Leap Year, or the time difference between London and Strasbourg. “Are morons running the Home Office, or were they trying to be too clever by half?” he asked. Qatada is represented at Britain’s expense by Edward Fitzgerald QC, one of our best human rights lawyers. And now we’ll have to wait till “ECHR bureacrats” make judgement on whether the appeal should be heard. This “farce” exposes the gap between what lawyers think is right, and what “most people think is just or, God help us, right and wrong.” He ended with a stentorian note: “We have no chance, until the people we elect stop acting like frightened rabbits in the face of lawyers for whom this is but an elaborate game played always by their rules.”
Hang on a minute – we need the ECHR. Daniel Knowles on The Telegraph was interested in what Ken Clarke had to say about the ECHR. He thinks that Parliament shouldn’t have the right to ignore ECHR rulings – because this would allow other “much nastier” parliaments to do so. Parliament shouldn’t be able to reverse the judgments of courts of law. We need somebody to protect the rights of minorities – which is what the ECHR is. And that’s why it was set up in the first place. And actually, “the Qatada verdict has actually been a victory for the ECHR: it has forced Jordan to offer assurances not to use evidence acquired by torture.”
People are missing the point. Over on the The Liberal Bureaucracy blog, it was pointed out that this “isn’t a point of principle, it’s a point of process, as is so much of governance. And if this Government spent more time improving the processes, and less time trying to change things for the sake of looking busy, perhaps we’d all be better off.”
The legal view: Clarity needed. The independent legal website Headoflegal said that the English text of the Convention which provides for the deadline is ambiguous on the face of it: It would have been clearer if it “had said either that reference could be made within three months beginning on and including the date of judgment, or else within three months after that date.” The French text isn’t completely clear, either. This all illustrates the need for “precision in legal texts.” It’s also “surprising that the Convention is unclear – but not amazing.” The provisions must be interpreted in “light of their object and purpose” – which is to give a “clear and finite period for ‘appeal’”. In other words, it should be “three months after the date of the judgement,” which would mean that the “appeal would be in time.” In any case, this appeal won’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things – Theresa May had already told the Commons that she expected the deportation to be delayed. This “just proves her right.”
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