Judges reject Abu Qatada decision claim


High Court judges today rejected a “gloomy prognosis” that there could be another year or more of litigation before a final decision is made on deporting radical preacher Abu Qatada.

They said it was reasonable to believe Qatada's removal could take place "within a reasonable time".

The judges were giving their reasons why the man described as a key al-Qa'ida activist and "a truly dangerous individual" must remain in detention.

Last week the judges upheld a decision of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), made on May 28, refusing Qatada bail while he continues to fight removal to Jordan where he faces trial on terrorism charges.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, acting for Qatada, argued the cleric had been in detention for seven years - "the longest period of administrative detention as far as we know in modern English history".

He said detention in a high security prison had now become "disproportionate and unlawful".

The QC accused SIAC judge Mr Justice Mitting of failing to take proper account of the fact that the length of detention was likely to become even more disproportionate and unreasonable because the deportation battle was far from over.

SIAC holds its latest hearing in October. Mr Fitzgerald suggested the battle would continue to drag on afterwards for months to come - and even be referred back to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Today Lord Justice Hughes and Mr Justice Silber said there had been "no error of any kind" when SIAC decided against releasing Qatada during the Olympics, when police and security services were fully stretched, because it would be "exceptionally problematic" and risky for the public.

The judges also ruled the risk of Qatada absconding in the run-up to the next SIAC hearing also justified his continued detention.

Conceding that the period of detention to date was "enormously lengthy", the judges said that was attributable "to the length of the litigation process, to which both sides have contributed, but also to the considerable importance of the issues".

The judges then added: "We do not agree with Mr Fitzgerald's gloomy prognosis that another year or more of litigation is to be expected after the fortnight's hearing in SIAC and the subsequent announcement of its decision, probably in or about November...

They ruled: "Mr Justice Mitting was entitled to conclude that there was a reasonable prospect of deportation taking place within a reasonable time."

The judges said Qatada could appeal from the SIAC ruling, but any appeal would have to be on points of law.

Whilst the "ingenuity of counsel" in devising such points was not to be underestimated, the Court of Appeal could determine very quickly whether they were arguable.

Nor did they accept that it was "an inevitability" that the European court would want to hear the case again.

Robin Tam QC, acting for the Government, had told the High Court that Qatada was "a truly dangerous individual" who was "at the centre in the UK of terrorist activity associated with al-Qa'ida" and said: "At no time has the claimant disputed the national security case against him."

Mr Tam told the court it was "fanciful" to suggest Qatada does "not pose any risk of absconding" and added he had an ability to "go to ground" and in the past had "gone out of sight for almost a year".

Qatada says that if he faces a new trial in Jordan there is a real risk that evidence obtained through torture will be used against him, in breach of his human rights.

However, in May, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that his appeal against deportation would not be referred to its grand chamber.

The Home Office says it is confident that assurances from Jordan that his rights will not be breached will allow him to be removed "as quickly as possible".