Lawyers say 'rule of law' is under threat after Bakri is barred

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The Independent Online

They accused the Government of trying to "beat up" the judiciary and making them choose between "torture and terror" after it warned courts they may have to deport Islamic extremists.

The claims came as the extremist cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed was barred from returning to Britain. Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, ruled that his presence was "not conducive to the public good".

The so-called Tottenham ayatollah, who provoked fury when he reportedly referred to the London suicide bombers as the "fantastic four", left last week for a holiday in Lebanon. After days of conflicting signals over the Government's response, the Home Office announced that Mr Clarke had revoked Mr Bakri's permission to live in Britain and that he would be prevented from setting foot in this country.

The move was welcomed across the political spectrum and by moderate Muslim groups, but was condemned by Mr Bakri's spokesman as a defeat for free speech. The announcement means that if he flew to Britain he would be detained and returned on the first flight to Lebanon. Home Office officials believe he fled because of the threat of facing a treason charge for his pronouncements on the London bombings.

Yesterday Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, issued a direct challenge to judges when he warned the Government was planning changes to the Human Rights Act to force the courts to consider "national security" when considering deportations.

"I want a law which says the Home Secretary, supervised by the courts, has to balance the rights of the individual deportee against risk to national security," the minister said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "That may involve an Act which says, 'this is the correct interpretation of the European Convention (on Human Rights)'."

Mr Bakri, who has dual Syrian and Lebanese nationality, arrived in Britain in 1986 as an asylum-seeker and was granted indefinite leave to remain. His wife and seven children will continue to receive state benefits, although the cleric's benefits will be terminated.

Britain has signed a "memorandum of understanding" with Jordan, where Mr Bakri was convicted in his absence of plotting a bomb attack, that people returned would not be ill-treated.