After many years of court appearances and appeal after appeal, the saga over radical cleric Abu Qatada (real name Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman) could be resolved relatively soon.
After an unsuccessful request earlier this year to get a hearing before the Supreme Court to overturn a prior ruling that deporting Abu Qatada would be against his human rights, Home Secretary Theresa May recently announced that a mutual assistance treaty had been signed by Jordan and the UK.
The treaty covers legal, diplomatic and related mutual assistance. In her statement to MP’s, Ms May affirmed that “these guarantees will provide the courts with the assurance that Qatada will not face evidence that might have been obtained by torture, in a retrial in Jordan.”
At this stage, it is neither signed nor ratified, but is approved of in theory, and is subject to further discussions prior to ratification. This process could take several months. When announcing the treaty to the House of Commons, Ms May stated that even after the ratification of the treaty, Abu Qatada could still appeal any subsequent deportation.
This is the latest episode in an on-going legal battle by the Home Office over the last decade to deport the extremist Islamic cleric to his native Jordan. Responding to various deportation orders, he has successfully appealed to Europe that such an act would be in breach of human rights. The Jordanian government has used evidence obtained by torture in the past, and the prospect of the UK sending someone overseas to face trial or detention under evidence obtained or tainted by torture is totally incompatible with British government policy on legal and ethical grounds.
With the failure to extradite the radical cleric a sore point for the government, Ms May stated that all options were being considered. This includes the UK government possibly issuing a declaration of incompatibility from the European Charter of Human Rights on this matter, or other mechanisms to withdraw from the ECHR temporarily. Both government and opposition ministers have heavily criticised such a concept, with the Lib Dems declaring that they would block such an attempt. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused the Home Secretary of “overstating her legal strategy, which has not worked” in the past, and in this matter, with commentators saying that any withdrawal from ECHR is unprecedented.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC- adjudicator on national security-related deportations) overturned a prior ruling for Qatada’s deportation last year; upon a Home Office appeal, the Court of Appeal upheld this ruling. With her current request to get the case referred to the Supreme Court blocked, Ms May in now attempting to apply to the Supreme Court directly to be allowed to challenge the Appeal Court ruling. Failing that, the treaty will be ratified and come into force.
In the meantime, Abu Qatada remains in the UK under strict bail conditions, the subject of intense legal battles hinging over whether public safety and government agenda can overturn human rights and anti- torture principles and laws; both sides have a very strong legal and moral standpoint in this long lasting saga.