By Vicky Ramsden, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. Britain’s longstanding legal battle to deport radical jihadist cleric, Abu Qatada, back to Jordan, has taken another turn this week. Abu Qatada is known for his affiliation with Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, as well as for his hate preachment and incitement towards the west. Qatada has also been linked to terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks in the United States. He has so far managed to block all deportation attempts that have been made by the British government, over the last twelve years. Qatada is wanted in his home country of Jordan, on charges of conspiracy to carry out terrorist attacks. However, the British government has so far failed to complete the extradition, due to the fact that Jordan has been unable to provide convincing evidence that Qatada will not face torture, on his return to the country. As Britain is part of the European Convention on Human Rights, it is legally unable deport Qatada to Jordan under Article 6 of the Convention.
In the most recent ruling on the Abu Qatada case, the Court of Appeal stated that “The court recognizes that Mr Othman (Abu Qatada) is regarded as a very dangerous person, but emphasizes that this is not a relevant consideration under the applicable (European Human Rights) Convention law.” The statement made by the Court of Appeal highlights that even though Qatada is considered undesirable and dangerous to security in the UK, it does not change the application of the Human Rights Convention and his right to justice and a fair trial. The British Court of Appeal consequently denied the attempt for the case to be advanced to the Supreme Court, effectively halting the deportation process.
However, the British Interior Minister, Theresa May, announced the latest developments in the case earlier this week. She stated that the government has signed a comprehensive mutual legal assistance agreement with Jordan, with the hope that this will overcome the legal obstacles hindering his deportation. The treaty outlined guarantees that evidence obtained through torture would not be used in a trial, if Qatada returned to Jordan. The treaty further outlines fair trial guarantees that would be applied to anyone being deported to Jordan. However, Theresa May was forced to admit that even with the treaty, it would be many more months before he would be able to leave the UK. Plus, any attempt at extradition would undoubtedly be met by challenges from Abu Qatada and his legal team.
The case has raised considerable questions in the UK and Theresa May is facing mounting pressure to resolve the case. There have also been increased calls for Britain to consider temporarily leaving the human rights convention, in order to complete the extradition. The Conservative government is already under pressure from more right wing parties, such as UKIP, to take decisive action and regain national legal sovereignty. Public and official opinion is deeply divided on the subject, with many losing patience for the proceedings. The case is also intensifying pressures between the conservative/liberal coalition who have largely opposing views on the case and the Human Rights Convention in general. However, whilst proceedings are still restricted by the Convention, underlying thought seems to reflect that respect for EU law must be upheld. However, options to be taken by the UK government are becoming increasingly restricted.
Over the duration of the case, the fascinating juxtaposition between the protection of individual human rights and national interest has been highlighted. The issue of terrorism, national security and human rights is in itself a controversial topic in the UK. The Abu Qatada case is not the only time that national interest has clashed with human rights or European Union legislation. In light of the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks, the Labour government planned to introduce controversial anti-terrorism legislation that would allow a suspect to be detained for up to 90 days without charge, which was reduced to 28 days after receiving heavy criticism and a vote in the Commons. British civil law has also clashed with EU legislation on numerous occasions, which is one of the reasons for rising Euro-scepticism in the United Kingdom.
The Qatada case is bound to see numerous twists and turns in the coming months, as the consequences of the latest developments unfold. However, what is clear is that until a satisfactory conclusion is reached, the balance between protecting human rights and state sovereignty will be continuously called into question.