Radical cleric Abu Qatada was today released from Long Lartin Prison in Worcestershire after winning a bail appeal, despite Home Secretary Theresa May’s proclamation in April that he would soon be on a plane and “out of our country for good”.
The UK Government’s deportation order was thrown out on Monday when Judges at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled that insufficient assurances had been received from Jordan – where he has been convicted of terror charges and sentenced to life imprisonment in his absence in 1999.
His release, albeit on strict bail conditions, has again put the spotlight on Mrs May who has been accused of overseeing a “catalogue of confusion and mistakes”.
This week May has had to back down to the Europe after admitting that she cannot change EU treaties and extend UK work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians.
In a snub to Jordan, SIAC Judges said that, despite assurances from the Jordanian Government, they could not be sure that evidence from witnesses who had been tortured would not be included in a retrial in his own native homeland.
SIAC is a superior court set up in 1997 which deals with appeals against decisions made by the Home Office to deport, or exclude, someone from the UK on national security grounds, or for other public interest reasons. SIAC also hears appeals against decisions to deprive persons of British citizenship.
The Home Secretary, announcing that the Government will appeal the decision, said: “The Government has been doing everything it can to get rid of Abu Qatada and we will continue to do so.”
Despite widespread public criticism’ the independent judiciary has thwarted successive Government’s attempts to deport convicted criminals and terror suspects.
However, Abu Hamza and four other terror suspects were extradited to the US last month, but only after 14 years of legally aided appeals and legal challenges had ran their course.
Abu Qatada, thought to be Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, will be driven to his home in London, although it is understood he will soon be moved along with his family.
Subject to a 16-hour curfew and an electronic tag, he will only be allowed out between 8am and 4pm, with conditions including not using the internet and not contacting certain people. This will involve round-the-clock monitoring by teams of officers.
AKA Omar Mahmoud Othman has been fighting deportation to Jordan for seven years at an estimated cost to the British taxpayer of several million pounds.
Judges at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in January that he could be sent back to Jordan with diplomatic assurances but he could not be deported while “there remains a real risk that evidence obtained by torture will be used against him”.
But UK SIAC Judges have ignored this, ruling on Monday that evidence from former co-defendants Abu Hawsher and Al-Hamasher, claimed to have been obtained by torture, could possibly be used against him in a retrial despite the assurances to the contrary by the Jordanian Government. Judges said:
“The Secretary of State has not satisfied us that, on a retrial, there is no real risk that the impugned statements of Abu Hawsher and Al-Hamasher would be admitted probatively against the appellant,” they said.
The Home Affairs Committee Chairman Keith Vaz, who remained relatively quiet during his own Labour party’s period in office, told reporters: “At the moment, it looks pretty farcical that a very dangerous man is now put on bail having gone through the court system for seven years and having cost the taxpayer £1 million.”
Vaz added: “What we need to do is study the judgment carefully and to try to persuade the Jordanians to do the only thing that the courts wanted them to which is to strengthen the Jordanian criminal code.”
In the ultimate display of British arrogance, SIAC is effectively demanding that Jordan changes its laws so that unelected British Judges will allow the convicted terrorist to be deported.
Qatada’s Solicitor Gareth Peirce, who must be laughing all the way to the bank, welcomed the ruling, saying: “It is important to reaffirm this country’s position that we abhor the use of torture and a case that was predicated upon evidence from witnesses who have been tortured is rejected – rejected by the courts of this country as by the European Court.
”We clearly agree with the decision, but it is important to emphasise the fundamental rules of law that we subscribe to. To that extent, it is important for other cases, not just for this case.“
Qatada’s UK diary
The Jordanian father-of-five, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, arrived in Britain in September 1993 on a forged passport. He claimed asylum and was allowed to stay by the Home Office the following year.
In February 2001 he was arrested by anti-terror police over his involvement in a plot to bomb Strasbourg Christmas market.
In December 2001 Qatada finds himself on Britain’s most wanted list, after literally going on the run from his home in Acton, West London. He was eventually arrested after ten months.
In April 2008 the Court of Appeal in London ruled that Qatada deportation would breach his human rights, as the evidence used against him in Jordan could have been obtained by torture. He was released on bail from Long Lartin jail, but later rearrested on fears he may abscond.
The ECHR awarded Qatada a derisory £2,500 compensation in February 2009, after Judges said his detention without trial under UK anti-terrorism Laws breached his human rights. The legal costs alone would have run into several hundred thousand pounds on taxpayer cash.
In what was seen as a rare victory for the beleaguered Home Secretary, ECHR Judges ruled that Qatada could be sent back to Jordan, subject to assurances but he could be deported whilst “there remains a real risk that evidence obtained by torture will be used against him”. He was released the following month on strict bail conditions, but arrested again in April 2012, as the Government prepared to deport him to Jordan. At the time SIAC President, Mr Justice Mitting, said Home Secretary Theresa May had obtained assurances from Jordan that it will “bend over backwards” to ensure Qatada received a fair trial.
In May 2012 Qatada lost a bid have his appeal heard by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, apparently clearing the way for the UK to finally deport him. May faced an embarrassing situation over the timing after insisting wrongly that the appeal request was not within deadline.
Qatada wins his October month’s SIAC appeal, seen as a test of assurances offered by Jordan, which means it could take years to deport him.
Earlier today on television Nick Clegg waded into the debate. The Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister, widely seen as the person who has blocked Tory plans to reform human rights laws, said the Government is “absolutely determined” to deport Abu Qatada.
Mr Clegg, said confirmed on ITV’s Daybreak that Government will be appealing the bail ruling.
“We’re determined to deport him.
“We strongly disagree with the court ruling, we’re going to challenge it, we’re going to take it to appeal.
“We’re absolutely determined to see this man get on a plane and go back to Jordan.
“He doesn’t belong here, he shouldn’t be in this country, he’s a dangerous person. He wanted to inflict harm on our country and this coalition government is going to do everything we can to challenge this every step of the way to make sure he is deported to Jordan.”
But David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, pointed out that it could take years before Qatada can be removed from Britain.
Mr Anderson said the Jordanian government could resolve the impasse by amending the country’s “code of criminal procedure” to satisfy the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.
However, the deportation process may then need to start again, including allowing Qatada repeated appeals, before the cleric can be deported.
The British press have gone into a near frenzy over the judgment with the Daily Mail writing:
“In the ten years he has spent making a mockery out of British justice, Abu Qatada is thought to have cost taxpayers an estimated £3million – in legal aid, prison costs, benefits and other payouts.
“He will now return to live in North London with his wife and five children on state handouts said to total £1,000 a month.
“As well as the £5million a year cost of 24-hour surveillance, the Government will have to foot the bill for translation from Arabic of all the calls he makes from his home to monitor his communications.”
In a Daily Telegraph poll, ‘Should the Government Ignore the ruling and send Abu Qatada to Jordan’ 93% of readers voted “Yes”.
Whilst the Government will clearly not break the law, it does illustrate the frustration and anger felt by the British public against what they see as an abuse of human rights laws.
Last week Immigration Matters reported that a convicted Malaysian criminal won an ‘Article 8’ human rights appeal, avoiding automatic deportation, partly because she would be “stigmatised” in her homeland for her offences.
Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which covers the right to respect for private or family life, has been criticised in the press for being exploited by criminals in order to escape deportation by arguing they had a husband, wife or partner and children who have lived in the UK for several years.
The scope of article 8 has been extended by Judges to include a rapist with a ‘social life’ and a killer who lived with his parents.
There have been a number of high profile article 8 human rights appeal cases for visa overstayers, such as the student (who also had a criminal record) who was allowed to avoid removal because he and his partner had a private life and owned a cat.
The tabloid press would have you believe that senior Judges are “living on another planet” and devoid of any common sense, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. In the vast majority of cases it is politicians or Home Office and UKBA officials who fail to interpret the law correctly.
If you read the full judgment you will find that the Judges have gone into considerable detail, taking into account Articles 3, 5 and 6, before allowing the appeal.
Summing up the 52 page SIAC Decision, before The Honourable Mr Justice Mitting (Chairman) Upper Tribunal Judge Peter Lane and Dame Denise Holt, the Judges ruled:
“For the reasons given on the Article 6 issue, we are satisfied that the Secretary of State should have exercised her discretion differently and should not have declined to revoke the deportation order. Accordingly, this appeal is allowed.”
Cynthia Barker, of immigration advisers Bison Management UK, shares the public’s frustration with human rights laws, but argues that these cases are not typical of what’s really going on.
“Migrant workers and tax paying students, who are not claiming benefits, are removed form the UK every day for simply overstaying their visa or working more than 20 hours a week.
“Many are refused visa extensions or Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) because they have a County Court Judgment (CCJ) for a debt or a minor conviction for not paying the correct fare on the train. Unfortunately, unlike Abu Qatada too many overstayers or those refused visas accept their fate and do not bother to seek advice and exercise their right of appeal.”
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