The Home Office “repeatedly checked” the deadline for Abu Qatada’s appeal against deportation with the European Court of Human Rights, David Cameron claimed today.
The Prime Minister said that, after checking with the court and considering the precedents, the Home Office had been “very clear” that the deadline was midnight on the evening of Monday 16 April.
The radical cleric was subsequently arrested on Tuesday 17 April, to triumphant statements from MPs, only for his lawyer to launch a deportation appeal at 10pm that evening.
The proceedings ended in farce, with a dispute between the Home Office and the European Court of Human Rights over exactly when the window for Qatada to appeal had closed.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has insisted that the 51-year-old, Jordanian’s appeal is thrown out because it missed a three-month deadline, but advice from the Council of Europe's research department suggests otherwise.
A five-strong panel of judges at the European Court of Human Rights will now decide whether the appeal was made in time or not. If it wasn’t, the judges cannot allow the appeal to be heard by its Grand Chamber. If it was, the Grand Chamber could take up to 18 months to reach a verdict on the appeal.
The confusion could lead to Qatada being back on British streets in a couple of weeks.
Mr Justice Mitting, president of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), sent Qatada back to prison after his arrest on Tuesday.
But on doing so he warned: “If it is obvious after two or three weeks have elapsed that deportation is not imminent... then I will reconsider bail along the basis of a more leisurely timetable than that necessarily required for a full-blown appeal to Siac.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Cameron denied making a mess of Qatada’s deportation, saying "The Home Office was very clear that it had the right date for the deadline expiring on the Monday evening.
"It had checked repeatedly throughout that process, it was working on that basis, and all the case law pointed in that direction, so it was very clear and Theresa May has been very clear about this."
He added: "The Home Office was working on the basis of the deadline being the Monday night and that is something that they had checked with the court.
"The Home Office was clear about the date, the precedents were checked, and so they acted in my view entirely correctly.
"The Home Office had checked the precedents, was working on the assumption the date was the Monday night. They acted entirely correctly. They wanted to move swiftly to remove Abu Qatada and I think that was the right thing to do."