Europe judge defends Abu Qatada ruling


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The Independent Online

Europe's top judge today defended his court's decision to block the deportation of radical cleric Abu Qatada.

Sir Nicolas Bratza hit back at suggestions the court was "interfering" in domestic matters when he appeared before MPs and peers.

The European Court of Human Rights president also dismissed claims the judiciary was being "creative" in the way it was interpreting laws on prisoner voting rights, insisting the rules date back to the 1970s.

"If there was creativity, it was creativity 30 years ago," Sir Nicolas told Parliament's joint committee on human rights.

The UK Government and the court have been on collision course over a number of issues in recent months.

David Cameron has come under increasing pressure from Tory backbenchers over claims the ECHR is meddling in British affairs.

The Prime Minister is attempting to drive through reform of the court during Britain's six month chairmanship of the Council of Europe, which oversees it.

In January Home Secretary Theresa May said it was unacceptable that Britain was unable to deport Qatada who "poses a serious risk to our national security" after the ECHR ruled there would be a breach of his right to a fair trial "given the real risk of the admission of evidence obtained by torture at his retrial".

But, in an article for the Independent, Sir Nicolas launched a thinly veiled attack on "senior British" politicians for pandering to tabloid newspapers over the court.

Asked today if he agreed the court had gone beyond its traditional powers by invoking Qatada's right to a fair trial to "frustrate" his deportation, Sir Nicolas said: "As I was a party to that, I don't think I can accept that."

He was also asked if he could understand the outrage caused by the court when it blocked the deportation of dangerous criminals.

"I can certainly understand it but our function is to determine - and I don't believe anyone would say we were wrong in doing so - whether if somebody is sent back to a country where they faced a substantial risk of death or ill treatment in that country, I think there's nothing exceptional in our court saying there's a responsibility on the country that is returning somebody to these conditions," he said.

"I don't believe that anyone in the Government of this country would dispute that."

Sir Nicolas dismissed "mischievous" claims that since 1966 the court had found violations in three out of four cases brought against the UK.

"This to my mind is a gross distortion and one that is clearly designed to undermine the standing of our court.

"The allegation is simply not born out by the evidence.

In 2010 only 23 cases out of 1,200 reached a judgment of which half the court found a violation.

He said the court was "particularly respectful of judgments made in the UK and did not believe it "interfered" in the way cases were handled domestically.