Theresa May was under intense pressure last night to sort out the “utter madness” of the Abu Qatada deportation battle as her attempts to have the radical cleric expelled were rebuffed by the courts once again.
Almost a year after the Home Secretary promised that she had enough assurances from Jordan to put the 52-year-old “on a plane and get him out of our country for good”, the Government suffered another embarrassing defeat.
Yesterday, as senior judges dismissed Mrs May’s appeal against a Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) decision that Abu Qatada could not be removed to Jordan as there was a “real risk” evidence obtained under torture would be used against him in a retrial, there were calls for the minister to sort out the situation with the Arab Kingdom.
“This is an extremely serious and disappointing judgment which rips apart Theresa May's strategy for deporting Abu Qatada and contradicts her repeated assurances to Parliament that her approach would get him swiftly on to a plane,” said Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, adding: ”The Home Secretary needs to pursue all legal avenues, demonstrate further work with Jordan, take urgent action to keep the public safe, and get this deportation back on track.“
Last night the Home Office would not elaborate on what action was being taken to gain further assurances to satisfy the courts, but said: ”We continue to work with the Jordanians to address the outstanding legal issues preventing deportation.”
“This is not the end of the road, and the Government remains determined to deport Abu Qatada. We will consider this judgement carefully and plan to seek leave to appeal,” the statement said.
The ruling was met with frustration from all parties. London Mayor Boris Johnson said: ”Abu Qatada's deportation to Jordan is long overdue and it's utter madness that we can't get shot of this man.”
SIAC decided in November that Abu Qatada - whose real name is Omar Othman - could not be removed to Jordan, where he was convicted of terror charges in his absence in 1999, without “a real risk” of evidence obtained through torture being used against him at a retrial.
Mrs May's legal team argued at a recent hearing before the Court of Appeal that the Islamic extremist was a “truly dangerous” individual who escaped deportation because SIAC had “erred in law”.
But yesterday Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls, and two other judges unanimously rejected the appeal, insisting they were satisfied that SIAC had not committed any legal errors.
Lord Dyson said SIAC was entitled to conclude there was a real risk of a flagrant denial of justice, adding: “Torture is universally abhorred as an evil. A state cannot expel a person to another state where there is a real risk that he will be tried on the basis of evidence which there is a real possibility may have been obtained by torture.
”That principle is accepted by the Secretary of State and is not in doubt. That is the principle which SIAC had to apply in the present case in the light of all the evidence that it heard and read.”
He continued: “The court recognises that Mr Othman is regarded by the UK government as a danger to national security and understands that there is a general feeling that his deportation to Jordan to face trial is long overdue.”
“The fact that Mr Othman is considered to be dangerous is not relevant to the application of these principles any more than it would be relevant if the issue was whether he should be deported to a country where he would be at risk of facing torture himself.
“This court can only interfere with a decision of SIAC where an error of law had been identified. SIAC was entitled to reach the conclusion that it did on the facts of this case and the SSHD (Secretary of State for the Home Department) has failed to identify any error of law.”
Abu Qatada was recently taken back into custody after he was arrested for alleged breaches of his bail conditions. Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Osborne said last week that the hate preacher was being investigated over extremist material. A hearing to consider whether he should be granted bail again was postponed last Thursday.